Leader of opposition Lazarus Chakwera on Monday maintained his earlier stance that President Peter Mutharika’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) was empty, saying the economy must have been stabilising at State House where the taxpayers pay for the President’s living expenses.
Chakwera, who is also Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president, becomes the latest to dismiss the address after British and German envoys also said it fell short of giving details of progress made in fighting corruption or instilling fiscal discipline in the wake of mini- Cashgates in the health and agriculture ministries.
He described the speech as a “bedtime story” in sharp reference to scenes of members of Parliament (MPs) including newly-appointed leader of House George Chaponda, who were caught on camera dozing during Mutharika’s 90-minute-long speech.
In his response to the speech, which Mutharika delivered in Parliament on Friday, Chakwera did not mince words to describe it as a make believe and uninspiring.
“Even though the President claims that the economy is stabilising, I am here to tell him that the only place where that claim is true in real terms is in the State House he occupies, where all his bills and living expenses are paid for by Malawian taxpayers
“But for our people, who pay their own bills and living expenses, there is nothing stable about this economy,” Chakwera said.
He described the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration as failed government because of lack of improvement in provision of social services, electricity, water supply, health, education and that things were no better for the unemployed youth or tobacco farmers.
Said Chakwera: “Are things getting better for primary and secondary school teachers? Are things getting better for small business owners? So, how can the whole President claim that things are getting better? This is unacceptable!”
He said Mutharika’s address did not provide specifics on plans to turn the economy around or on the links between the performance of different sectors and national economic performance targets.
Chakwera further described agricultural reforms Mutharika outlined as a “laundry list approach” to addressing severe food
shortages which the country was experiencing.
Instead, it was Chakwera’s recommendation that the country’s agricultural policy should focus on promoting the production of a few commodities with capacity for value-addition within Malawi to target the export market or for import substitution.
In his response, leader of People’s Party in the House Uladi Mussa joined the leader of opposition to demand more action from the Mutharika administration than mere rhetoric.
He observed that on education, Mutharika spent a mere three minutes on the sector and for two consecutive years had told Malawians that construction of teacher training colleges (TTCs)in Phalombe and Rumphi would commence.
“Should we believe what did not happen last year would happen this year? What guarantee is there?” Mussa said.
On the economy, Mussa said the resumption of the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) should translate to benefits for ordinary Malawians instead of the government simply saying it was bearing fruits.
“Which fruits? And who is eating them?” Mussa said, to wild applause from the opposition benches.
The government side was, however, at pains to respond to the scathing attacks from the opposition.
Chaponda pointed out that Chakwera’s remarks contained misinformation, especially on assertions that the DPP administration has not performed.
Government chief whip Henry Mussa’s attempts to seek sympathy from Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya fell on deaf ears.
It was Mussa’s contention that Chakwera had made remarks which reflected on the President, contrary to Standing Orders.
Specifically, remarks that the economy was only performing well at State House is what irked Mussa.
But Msowoya said Chakwera had not referred to the President as an individual but State House as a government institution.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe is expected to present the 2016/17 budget at 2pm on Friday