President Peter Mutharika last night moved in to ease the pain that individuals and organisations are facing in the face of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The President, in his address monitored on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), didn’t just look at urban-centric approach to the crisis, but also cast the net wider to help rural people have decent income by announcing fund to Admarc to buy produce.
The measures the President took ranged from a directive to Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) to reduce fuel prices with immediate effect, as a move intended to reduce transport cost and an order to Treasury to reduce salaries of the President, Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers by 10 percent for three months.
Mera responded last night to the President’s directive by reducing fuel prices—petrol from K930 per litre to K780, which is 16.13 percent reduction and diesel from K870 to K765, which is 13.75 percent reduction, according to a statement Mera issued, signed by the Authority’s chief executive officer Collins Magalasi.
Mutharika said the resources saved from the salary cuts be directed towards the fight against the coronavirus, which globally has claimed over 50 000 lives.
The President also instructed Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) to open up a voluntary tax compliance window for six months to allow taxpayers with arrears to settle their tax obligations in installments without penalty.
The President, in his 12 minutes address, directed that a special fund be created for Admarc to buy agricultural produce at competitive prices.
“[Government will also] establish a relief fund through which well-wishers, companies and individuals can support the fight against coronavirus.
“[I also instruct MRA] to apply tax waivers on importation of essential goods for coronavirus management. These include personal protective equipment, hand sanitisers, soaps, water treatment chemicals and many more,” the President said.
Mutharika, who also banned gatherings of more than 100 people in his earlier address on Friday, directed a waiver on non tourism levy to support the tourism industry.
Mutharika, who said this [Covid-19] is an attack all people must unite and fight together or perish, also ordered an increase to Merdef loans from K13 billion to K15 billion to help micro, small and medium scale businesses that have been seriously affected by the pandemic.
He further directed reduction of fees and charges on all electronic money transactions to promote use of electronic money transactions.
“I am also directing the Ministry of Health to recruit 2 000 health workers to assist in the fight of the pandemic. We need more soldiers and human power in this fight.
“I am directing Treasury to increase the risk allowances for our health workers as a matter of urgency. The welfare of health care workers is our welfare. Their safety is our safety,” he said.
He also directed Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that Auction Holdings Limited functions normally, to operate the tobacco marketing season and protect tobacco farmers.
“Further, I am directing Reserve Bank to implement a win-win arrangement with commercial banks and micro-finance institutions to observe a three-month moratorium on interest and principal repayments for all loans contracted by micro, small and medium enterprises.
“Under this arrangement, the registrar [RBM] will restructure loans to this sector in order to extend their repayment to more than a year.encourage commercial banks to
“[Also] cushion the foreign exchange market to ensure availability of forex and stability of the foreign exchange rate [and] activate an emergency liquidity assistance framework to support banks in the event of worsening liquidity conditions and to provide support to banks on a case by case basis,” the President directed.
To protect employees as some companies, in particular private hotels, are already retrenching staff, President directed government to discuss with Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) and the Tourism Association of Malawi for win-win arrangements that would ensure that there are no redundancies in companies.
“As we speak, I have discussed with Sadc, Comesa and other regional trade blocks as well as neighbouring countries to ensure smooth transportation and importation of essential goods and raw materials into Malawi.
“People who intend to take advantage of our current situation will be punished. I will not allow anyone to make profit out of the suffering of Malawians due to coronavirus,” he warned.
The President said Malawi was not alone these tragic times as the whole world is under attack from this deadly virus.
“Many countries are struggling, many people are suffering and many are dying across the world,” said Mutharika who declared Malawi a State of Disaster on March 20 2020.
He encouraged every Malawian to observe strict rules of hygiene, including frequent washing of hands with soap and wearing masks
“We are intensifying screening of people in all entry points and surveillance of all travelers from countries that have confirmed coronavirus cases. We have intensified civic education and information sharing with communities,” he said.
He said the number of testing centres in various parts of the country would be increased over and above the three laboratories that are available, namely the National Health Reference Laboratory in Lilongwe; the College of Medicine Laboratory; and the Malawi Liverpool Welcome Trust in Blantyre.
In order to decongest work places, the President asked all offices shall work in shifts with the exception of those working in essential services.
“In the public sector, the Chief Secretary to the Government will issue a circular to provide guidelines, while for the private and other sectors, the heads of institutions shall liaise with the Secretary responsible for Labour for guidelines.
“All formal meetings, gatherings and conferences are suspended forthwith. All places, buildings and structures with public access shall ensure that there is adequate ventilation during all periods the public has access to those places, buildings and structures,” the President ordered.
He urged all employers to allow vulnerable employees, including those with underlying medical conditions to work from or stay at home.
“In order to decongest our prisons, I direct the Malawi Prison Services and Juvenile Centres to present a list of prisoners and juveniles who committed petty offences and those who have served a significant portion of their sentences for moderate crimes to the Minister of Homeland Security for processing of their release.
“I am further directing all affected line ministries and local councils to ensure that they have consulted and engaged their stakeholders such as vendors, market leaders, religious leaders, chiefs and the private sector to agree on sector specific measures and submit them to the Cabinet Committee for my approval within the next 72 hours,” Mutharika directed.
Reacting to the development, executive director of Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen), George Jobe said, in an interview last night, that his organisation welcomed the President’s directive to employ 2 000 health workers.
Jobe hoped the 2 000 health workers would be engaged immediately and without advertising and requiring them to undergo interviews as this is a crisis.
He commended Mutharika for ordering cut in fuel prices, urging authorities to monitor minibus operators to reduce prices that were hiked after government ordered reduction of passengers per minibus.
Jobe also commended the President for increased risk allowance to the health workers.