- Reveals anti-graft strategy
- Ready to reducing powers
- Commits to one million jobs
A relentless war on corruption through a new court to prosecute financial crimes, hiring of more judges, increased funding to ACB and making the graft body independent, are some tools government will employ to return Malawi to the rule of law.
These are pledges President Lazarus Chakwera made on Friday to lawmakers in his maiden State of the Nation address (Sona) at Parliament in Lilongwe.
Chakwera said to return to a functional public service, heal an ailing economy, unite a divided nation and reignite hope among millions of Malawians walloping in poverty, the country must return to the rule of law.
“Malawi stands in the twilight hours between the receding gloom of a long dark night and the rising bloom of a new day,” declared Chakwera buoyantly before reaffirming his campaign promises for cheaper fertiliser through the Affordable inputs programme (AIP) which pegs the input at K4 495 per 50 kilogramme bag, targeting 4.3 million farmers.
Chakwera also vowed to deliver on the promise of creating one million jobs—a joint pledge made with Vice-President Saulos Chilima as the two run for the presidency.
He said: “Ours is a country stripped of its God-given wealth and potential by syndicates of people in the public sector who exploit decades of bad government policies and practices to enrich themselves and their private sector accomplices.
“Ours is a country intentionally mismanaged to sustain and commodify a perpetual state of economic misery that affords certain entities, especially political parties and organisations, a raison d’etre at the expense of Malawians. In short, the poverty of our people is man-made, which means it can and must be unmade.”
The speech which was full of eloquence—as expected—and rich in substance detailed plans to transform the country from poverty to prosperity.
However, Leader of Opposition in Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa watered down the much-anticipated speech, saying what Chakwera presented to lawmakers is not a true reflection of what is on the ground.
“We [Democratic Progressive Party] will respond to the speech on Monday,” he said.
Chakwera—who was elected in a court-sanctioned June 23 presidential election—also repeated the vow to trim the powers of the presidency and answer questions from Members of Parliament—a thing no President has done since independence.
The President, who has already declared his assets, affirmed his desire to roll out the Access to Information (ATI) law, free up state broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Cooperation (MBC) and Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (Macra) from political abuse and empower the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
All this, the President announced in an address lasting almost an hour and 20 minutes, would be backed by legislative reforms that will be introduced to Parliament soon.
Chakwera, whose address was themed “Restoring warmth to the Heart of Africa” indulged himself in some victory laps; asking the House to applaud the Judiciary whose judges—present in the chamber led by the Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda—had delivered the historic ruling that nullified re-election of Chakwera’s predecessor and political nemesis, Peter Mutharika.
He also said his Cabinet had registered the highest number of women and youth representation.
At the President’s prompting, all the government members of the House and some in the visitors’ gallery gave the judges a standing ovation.
On the opposition side, the former DPP and United Democratic Front (UDF) members of Parliament (MPs) remained motionless.
Earlier in the speech, a few DPP MPs murmured in the background as the President made the address but were silent as the speech went on.
Reacting to the President’s speech, chairperson of the Civil Society Governance Platform, Benedicto Kondowe said the nation is eagerly waiting for action on the promises.
He said: “A lot has been said before on reducing presidential powers, but what needs to be done now is action. The issue of ACB funding is welcome, but to make the bureau independent, government must review the law.”
Kondowe pointed out that, for instance, funding to Judiciary must be dictated by Parliament.
“On the special corruption courts which are being called the Financial Crimes Court, they are welcome, but the President must also ensure there are short-term and long-term measures.
“A new court would require a lot of time [for now] they should explore designating judges to preside over financial crimes cases now like we did with Cashgate,” he suggested, adding the need for more judges is greater as some people are being denied justice due to current case backlog in courts.
Makhumbo Munthali, a human rights activist, said Chakwera’s address, on overall, did not disappoint.
He said the speech was grounded on communicating on how the Tonse government would deliver what it pledged in their manifesto—largely MCP and UTM 2019 manifestos.
“It’s a Sona that has set the tone on the priorities that the Tonse government would want to focus on,” said Munthali.
However, Munthali said key areas of concern is whether the Tonse government would be able to implement what it had pledged in the Sona within the coming financial year.
“Looking at some things highlighted in the Sona, you clearly see that they can take two to four years. In short, it’s unrealistic to implement all things pledged,” he said.
Before Chakwera’s arrival, Tonse Alliance party supporters gathered at the Parliament Building to welcome the President, in continuation of previous regimes’ politicisation of State events.
Development partners did not attend the event.