For a second time, in just about three months of his reign, President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera appeared before Parliament on Wednesday to answer questions from legislators in line with the constitution. The questions touched on diverse areas of interest which included sticky land matters, diplomatic missions and Covid-19. Our staff writer SUZGO CHITETE followed through the question time and picked out some of the questions and their responses:
What will your government do to ensure that contentious issues in land-related Bills, which led the then opposition to walk out of the House, are sorted out?
Yes, I do remember leading members of opposition to walk out of this House in protest of some provisions of the land Bills which Malawians were not happy with. I matched out in protest because I was appalled by the land crisis in this country. On one hand we have a crisis of greed such as how land in our cities is concentrated in the hands of few people, which is unacceptable. On the other, we have a crisis of lawlessness such as how people are encroaching on land they have not acquired legally. Our land management system is broken. We need to manage both crises by reforming our laws and enforcing our laws.
As you might recall despite our protest of these bad laws four years ago, the then DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] members of Parliamen, who remained in the House, went ahead and passed those 10 Bills into law. I will do the following things about these issues; first, I am directing the Ministry of Lands to review all land laws to address the flaws in the legislation and those laws should be ready for amendment at the next meeting of Parliament. Second, to help in this review process, I will see to it that the pilot phase of the land reform implementation plan is completed before the end of the year so that the lessons from that process informs the law reform process.
Now that that you have directed the review of the land laws, I want to know what’s the role of land reform implementation unit [Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Land Policy Reform] which was purposely created to deal with these matters?
It is not that the land commission is rendered irrelevant. We were talking about contentious issues that led us to walk out of the House. We are talking about those issues that specifically need revisiting and we are already talking with the chiefs, by the way even at that time we had a petition in Parliament by chiefs because the contentious issues we were highlighting were also highlighted by chiefs. So, no let the land commission continue its job— they are a critical player.
In the cities of Mzuzu, Lilongwe and Blantyre they are buildings which are an eyesore and we have seen the structures [were marked for demolition] but nothing has happened.
What’s your policy to deal with such buildings?
You know some people continue to have a mistaken view that democracy means lawlessness and they can continue with a practice that is supposed to be dead and buried. We must do what is right for this nation. We can afford to have cities that are equated with slums just because we did not plan right and yet we do have planners. We do have plans. Some plans have gathered dust because some people have chosen not to follow such plans. Let our cities become beautiful cities—places you feel welcome by what you see. Let our cities follow our plans so that we can all be proud of our cities.
What reasons motivated government decision to focus Malawi’s diplomatic attention to Israel, which is against the African Union’s position and makes Malawi the odd one out in this region?
Government wishes to restate that relations between states are governed by the Vienna Convention, and diplomatic relations and other principal statutes of the United Nations and in our case the African Union [AU]. These statutes recognise the supremacy of the State. In this regard, decisions of whom we associate with is a matter of national interest and in the sovereign realm of states. Government is cognisant of the AU position on the Isreali-Palestine conflict and we ascribe to it as a bonafide member of the union, however, it should be noted that the principle goal of the AU is the peaceful resolution to the conflict. Our position on the conflict is in keeping for both the AU and UN positions.
But what happens if we start receiving pressure from AU and UN on our decision?
I appeal to the august House and Malawians at large that we should never conduct international cooperation at the behest of pressure from anybody. We should conduct our diplomacy and international relations on the basis of mutual respect. The AU and the UN are member based institutions and they all operate on well-grounded procedures and laws – there is nothing like pressure on us as these are sovereign decisions.
Finally, I wish to emphasise that time is now ripe for Malawi to take its rightful role in international relations; demonstrate and share our experiences with all UN member states whilst exploiting our national interest for the betterment of our people.
Madam speaker, the President while on a tour of duty in Tanzania did not wear a mask. This has led to many Malawians not putting masks amidst Covid-19. If you look around the chamber most members are not wearing masks because they are following the President’s example. Does the President realise the consequence of his action?
I have explained to this nation and the people of this nation have understood my stance and they are still abiding by all Covid-19 guidelines. Nobody is going to win in this battle if all our attention is on ‘you are not doing it, you are not doing it’. Let’s all observe social distancing, let’s all observe mask wearing and lets all observe watching of hands and wherever you can use sanitisers.