President Peter Mutharika yesterday outlined a number of developmental programmes his government intends to embark on in 2018, including the nearly-forgotten Green Belt Initiative (GBI) and a new K176 billion irrigation project.
But human rights organisation Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) has described the Mutharika administration as having failed to live up to its promises in the just-ended year, citing poor governance and increased corruption levels.
In his New Year’s message, Mutharika said Malawians must have a reason to look forward to and make 2018 a year of hope.
He said his government expected the GBI revolution to start empowering more communities to become producing and exporting actors of the vision.
According to Mutharika, the Shire Valley Transformation project, which is part of the GBI, is set to empower 40 000 farming families.
“Around mid-year in 2018, I expect to launch construction of canals… We will pump water from Shire River and turn it into gravity-fed irrigation for the farmers. The first phase will begin with 22 300 hectares,” explained Mutharika in the statement.
Government also intends to initiate another irrigation project worth $240 million (about K176 billion) on the scale of 24 000 hectares where Nchalo Farmers’ Association in Chikwawa will partner with unnamed investors.
Mutharika also said he was expecting $100 million (about K73 billion) investment on 3 000 hectares of commercial farming by a company called DF Agritech.
Another project Mutharika said involves launching of free access to television that will provide 500 villages across the country free satellite television.
He said his government would also continue with the Jobs for Youth programme funded by the African Development Bank, continue with cash transfers, loans for the skilled youth and involving women and youth in irrigation programmes.
On the economy, while patting himself on the back for managing the country’s economy without donor budget support, Mutharika said this year he will ensure the economy grows further to benefit more people.
“We have managed the economy through economic shocks of national disasters. We survived national floods, drought and famine for two consecutive years,” he observed.
The country’s economy has risen from 2.7 percent to 6.4 percent of real Gross Development Product (GDP) growth. Inflation has also fallen to the single digit of 7.7 percent.
The Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) also recently announced the reduction of the policy rate from 18 percent to 16 percent and Mutharika said he expects commercial banks to follow suit and reduce their lending rates.
“This will make borrowing money from commercial banks cheaper and easier. I want a farmer, a teacher, a nurse, a soldier, a policeman or policewoman to walk into the bank and walk out with a loan that can build him or her a house somewhere,” he said.
However, the President expressed worry with the power shortage that hit the country in 2017 which he described as “very painful”.
He said his government was implementing long-term plans that would end the problem for good in the new year.
“This country failed to invest in energy that matches our population growth since colonialism. For 53 years we invested in only 131 Megawatts,” he notes in the statement.
Meanwhile, CHRR has described the power outages as a threat to people’s right to life as well as other social and economic rights protected in the Constitution.
In a press statement issued yesterday titled The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Review of Human Rights and Governance in 2017, the organisation described the dubious awarding of 78 megawatts (MW) stand-by electricity generators contract allegedly to a company with links to senior ruling party members as one of the failures of the Mutharika administration in the past year.
“The President has demonstrated failure to act against the allegations of serious misconduct involving senior officials in his own government and Escom, which has portrayed the President as sleeping on the job, unconcerned about the millions of dollars being siphoned by his own party officials,” CHRR executive director Timothy Mtambo said in the statement.
CHRR said it had noted that in 2017, Malawi continued to be corrupt under Mutharika’s leadership contrary to the promise he made when he assumed power in May 2014 that he would root out corruption.
“Corruption is a serious human rights violation as it acts as a barrier to poverty reduction diverting much-needed resources away from healthcare, schools and water provision,” the statement reads.
But in an interview yesterday, government spokesperson Nicholas Dausi said fighting corruption was a collective effort by the public, media, government bodies and civil society.
However, the government organised a multi-stakeholder anti-corruption conference whose recommendations and resolutions indicated that delegates looked to the presidency as the office that should demonstrate that the fight against corruption was possible.
In the statement, CHRR also touched on the maizegate scandal and appealed for speedy prosecution of former Minister of Agriculture George Chaponda and those involved in the maize purchase scandal and for an investigation into what caused the fire at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development office at the Capital Hill.
Another bad indicator of human rights abuses, according to CHRR, was the reported donation of about K13.5 million by several parastatal organisations to a fundraising initiative of the Democratic Progressive Party in July, 2017 describing the act as a contravention of the doctrine of public trust as enshrined in sections 12 and 178 of the Constitution.
But CHRR has also seen some good governance and entrenchment of human rights in 2017 among them the invalidation of the law on rogue and vagabond, the constitutional amendment on the marriage age to 18 and implementation of the national registration exercise.
While commending the government for reducing the inflation rate, Mtambo said this should translate to improved living standards for ordinary Malawians which has not happened.