In this interview, Paida Mpaso engages Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Ken Lipenga, to clarify his remarks on his purported support for new Malawi President Joyce Banda.
You have recently been quoted pledging your support for President Joyce Banda, what do you mean? Are you too joining Peopleâ€™s Party (PP)?
I am sure you are referring to the interview with Zodiak Broadcasting Station. That interview took place at a time the new President was just sworn in. It was during the transition period, [and] as a member of Parliament, it was important that I be associated with a constitutional transition.
It was important that some of us come out and indicate that we are supporting the process of adhering to the Constitution and there were several of us who did that. We were told there was a press briefing and we went there and, [of course], interviews were done separately. I was asked whether I support the process and I said yes as per the law and we never mentioned parties at that time because it was not an interview about political parties.
It was about supporting the process as well as supporting her and I said yes. And I think the journalist asked me about positions and I told her it was not about positions, it was me as an individual supporting the constitutional process.
So, will you join PP, when the time comes?
I think itâ€™s too early for me to be talking about these things as the President herself has pointed out. This is a mourning period. What was particularly important was to support the constitutional process and what I expect to happen is that in due course, the President will have to make a decision about a new Cabinet. She might work with us for a few more days and then at some point, she will dissolve the Cabinet. I think it was sufficient to indicate to her that we supported the process and she is aware of who supported her. [However] she will make up her mind as to who will be in Cabinet and itâ€™s not even me to announce these things.
Do you expect to be in that Cabinet?
Not necessarily. On what basis would I be expecting that (laughing). I think itâ€™s better that she has all the space to make the decision. Right now she is working with all of us, okay one of us has been dropped, [but] we are the Cabinet that she has inherited for the moment, but she is not under obligation, in my view, to continue with us. She is the new President and she must [do it in her will] and I do not want to add to that pressure [but] I want to work with her loyally.
So, what were you doing at the Presidentâ€™s office. What did you want?
Yes. That is what I am saying. It was important to appear there and not anywhere else in order to be seen to support the process that was happening.
But donâ€™t you think that made it seem like you wanted to align yourself with her?
I think wanting to align oneself with the Vice-President who was about to become President is different from the ones aligning themselves with the party. If I had wanted to do that I would have but at that particular point there was an official press briefing that was taking place and we actually received phone calls from there to say this was about to happen and so we went there. Not everybody went there but when asked to make a press statement, I said I was associating myself with the constitutional process that was taking place there. The Vice-President and I were in the same government but, of course, there were a lot of issues but at that point it was important to support the process and I did that and I donâ€™t have any regrets for having done so.
Some time ago, during the mid-term budget review, you were quoted as saying the zero-deficit budget was on track. Do you still hold that views?
The point I was making at that time was in reference to the figures that I was given and during that time, it was on course. But the [issue] that I experienced as Minister of Finance was that the concept of zero-deficit budget in itself it was not a bad idea but it had not been well articulated with Malawians for the simple reasons that it coincided with the time we were also facing problems with donors. So, it was difficult. But it appeared to be very much on course.
From the way you are speaking it seems the zero-deficit budget is off course?
Did I say that?
I am asking. Is it now on course?
No. Of course, we will have to look at the figures again as time has passed.
You also said some policies were not good and yet you were part of the government? Why now?
I think there were specific issues which I mentioned and I probably was referring to why donors were withdrawing aid. That had to do with the problems with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and non economic issues such as human rights and so on and so forth.
Why are you saying such policies are bad now? I have personally spoken to you on these issues and you always said everything was okay?
Letâ€™s be honest. Certainly I spoke in favour of the budget as I had inherited from my predecessor and it became mine. So, I defended it as a minister responsible for finance. I was getting figures and so I spoke and I am not diverting from what I said. However, the view we have is that there are certain things that were wrong and had to be reviewed thatâ€™s why there were on hold. There were enough of us who felt that that there was something wrong [with some policies], but clearly if you have a leader who thinks otherwise, you cannot go as far as you might like to go. But to be fair, those laws were put on hold.