President Peter Mutharika yesterday surprised his critics by setting an agenda for the country in a candid way by highlighting socio-economic challenges and proposed solutions as he took to task MPs caught in the web of abuse of CDF.
However, the President avoided commenting on the proposed Electoral Reforms Bill which his administration committed to table in Parliament during the 47th session of Parliament, which he opened in Lilongwe yesterday.
As he entered the august House to deliver his opening address, opposition parliamentarians, booed him, forcing Speaker Richard Msowoya to restore order—reminding the House that noise would not be tolerated.
In his 30-minute address titled ‘Rising Above Macroeconomic Stability’, Mutharika took time to remind lawmakers the role of Parliament in democracy, warning them that punishment and dire consequences await members of Parliament (MPs) and public servants who are stealing and abusing money meant for development projects.
He stressed that while his government is being held accountable by the MPs, the same legislators must prove to be accountable to government and ordinary Malawians.
He expressed disappointment over a public outcry that some MPs are abusing money in the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), resulting in many incomplete development projects the government had planned for ordinary Malawians.
“And yet, Mr. Speaker, the same vocal MPs stand here to accuse government of corruption… Something is tragic with a democracy in which those who think are watchdogs also think they must be accountable to no one.
“In any human society, in any democracy, no institution must be accountable to no one,” declared Mutharika who painted a rosy picture of the country’s economy and rebuked his critics whom he accused of trying to score cheap political points to discredit his administration.
He, therefore, warned that through the House, he will hold accountable all controlling officers who fail to follow the Public Finance Management Act, the Public Procurement Act and other laws.
“Comply with financial rules and regulations or be ready to face the law. It does not matter who you are,” the President said.
Indicating some key achievements by his administration, Mutharika said it must be appreciated that over the past three years, inflation has fallen from 24 percent to 8.4 percent, as of September 2017, that interest rates have dramatically fallen, with the base lending rate down to 18 percent by July, 2017.
“Our exchange rate has been stable for over two years. Further, a preliminary forecast for 2017 economic growth rate is likely to be higher than the 5.5 percent that was estimated earlier,” he stated, declaring that the growth rate could be the highest in the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc), with Malawi set to rise higher on the global doing business index.
Mutharika expressed joy that his government has now embarked on timely auditing, saying this promotes accountability of public resources.
He noted that the National Audit Office has already produced annual audit reports up to the financial year ending June 30 2016, and that work to release the financial statements up to June 30 2017 is underway is under way.
The President went to town on his critics who faulted his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)-led administration for banning maize exports, arguing that the decision was in the best interest of Malawians so that the country remains food secure.
On October 30, his administration removed a maize export ban which some players felt stifled farmers, as local prices tumbled due to increased production of the staple.
Mutharika also took a swipe at MPs for frustrating government business in the House while advancing their political agenda. He stressed that Parliament should never consider itself bigger than government.
“Far too often, we meet here to flex our political muscles. This is not a house for political posturing. This is not our house. Parliament is the House of the people. We are here on the principle of representing the people,” he said.
Turning to the worsening electricity blackouts, which have heavily dented his rule, Mutharika attributed the situation to failure by the previous administrations to invest in the energy sector, adding that his administration has lined up medium and long-term interventions to deal with the challenges.
Reacting to the statement, a political analyst Emily Mkamanga observed that the silence by the President on the Electoral Reform Bills may send wrong signals that the current administration does not want the Bills tabled, debated and passed by Parliament.
She added that Malawians are eagerly waiting to know if the 50+1 system will be used in the next polls and the earlier the Bills are tabled the better.
On his part, political analyst from Chancellor College Ernest Thindwa said the DPP-led administration need to be given credit for stabilising the macroeconomic fundamentals, and was quick to add that the common man on the street has not benefited much.
Said Thindwa: “The DPP can get the credit for [economic stability] but the trickling down effect is not being felt as one would have imagined.”
However, he faulted Mutharika for attacking MPs for abusing CDF, arguing that government has all the institutions in place to deal with such culprits instead of comparing plunder of the Executive and the Legislature. n