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Malawi. Politicking in the midst of hunger, poverty and insecurity

The next Presidential and Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2019, but already the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is already in campaign mode for those elections. Meanwhile people continue to suffer.

In May last year President Peter Mutharika was sworn into office, promising 16 million Malawians that he would turn the economy around in the wake of a donor-aid freeze. The freezing of donor-aid to Malawi was a  result of a ‘cashgate’ scandal in which MK24 billions (in dollars?) of tax payer’s money was stolen from government coffers. He also promised to reform the civil service and improve the living conditions of the poor. But one year and some months on in the presidency, nothing seems to have taken shape especially in the matter of improving the lives of the people.

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The prices of commodities have skyrocketed and an estimated 1.8 million people are in need of food due to drought and floods. The UN estimates that 57% of the population live below the poverty line. Instead of the government dealing with these problems,  the Mutharika administration is busy not only strategising for 2019 elections but also in accusing the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) of failing in its role of offering the government meaningful ideas on development. The president accuses the MCP leader Lazerus Chakwera of inciting people to rise against the government in his call for the president to resign. Chakwera feels the president is failing to live up to his campaign promises. “People are dying of hunger”, says Chakwera. He says the security situation has deteriorated and the government is failing its obligations to protect the people.

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The government is denying any allegation of failure and instead blames the opposition and civil society organizations of having an agenda specifically to have the president removed from office. The Mutharika administration is calling on the opposition parties to wait for 2019 before calling elections which the DPP says it will win. Political and economic commentators say the country’s economy will need some miracles to get back to its feet without donor support. The local currency has nose-dived against the US$.

Serious challenges

One of Mutharika’s campaign promises was to give the poor free iron sheets and cement in the next five years through a programme called the Decent and Affordable Housing Subsidy Programme. This programme was launched last year. “People were skeptical when the programme was being launched, but now, we can see that it is a reality”, says Atupele Muluzi, Minister of Lands and Housing.

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Muluzi, an opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) president, admits that the implementation of the programme is facing serious challenges such as floods in some districts, that affected the programme and some suppliers failing to supply the materials to the government. The government is implementing the programme with money from tax paper. And because Mutharika promised free iron sheets and cement, they will make sure that something is seen to be happening, even if there is not enough funding for the programme due to cashgate which forced donors such as the European Union, Germany, Norway, USA, the African Development Bank, the IMF and others to stop aid. Former President Joyce Banda engaged the British forensic audit firm, Baker Tilly, which found out that, between April and September 2013, about MK24 billion was stolen from government coffers and the media christened the scandal, ‘cashgate’.
And earlier this year, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), in its analysis of the Malawi Government accounts, found that about MK577 billion have been lost between 2009 and December 2014, when the DPP government was in power under the late Bingu wa Mutharika, a brother of Peter’s.

No money

Donors who contributed 40% of their money to the country’s national budget withdrew their financial support to the government. This has impacted negatively on the economy.  Most of the sectors have been affected as a result of this aid withdrawal. The government cannot afford to buy drugs in the hospitals. The aid freeze has also ensured that the government cannot even afford to pay civil servants on time and that security officers cannot do their work due to lack of funds.

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“This situation is pathetic”, says Jonah Kalimanjira, a businessman who was attacked by armed robbers. Kalimanjira says he called the police but he was told that the police cars had no fuel to travel to the scene of the incident. Police officers admit that the situation is terribly bad. Some vehicles have been grounded due to lack of fuel. Hospital ambulances have also been grounded as a result of lack of fuel and money to service them. People are dying in the hospitals from diseases that could easily be cured. Government Departments have no materials such as paper, toilet tissues, writing pens, and toner, because the government has no money to buy them. In the midst of all this chaos, the Mutharika administration is still accusing the opposition for its failures.

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In September this year the president took a contingent of 115 people to the UN General Assembly and came under heavy criticism from opposition leaders, civil society organizations and economic commentators. Malawians wondered how a president could take over a 100 people to the UN when people are dying in hospitals due to lack of drugs. Mutharika hit back at his critics, accusing them of blowing the issue out of proportion. He denied taking huge numbers to the UN but failed to prove he had indeed taken only a small number. The opposition parties are also not doing enough to help the country move out of poverty. They have no proper strategy in place and have failed this country as well.
They fail to take the government to account for its economic blunders. Some opposition Members of Parliament have joined the government having been given positions as a way of silencing them. In the process they have allowed the government to get away with whatever  mistakes it has made.  Politicking in the midst of poverty and insecurity will still continue for as long as politicians in government don’t care about the problems facing the people in their country.

Raphael Mweninguwe

 

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