The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development (Cedep) have asked government to provide convincing answers for the economic challenges facing the country or face street protests.
The two organisations have also called on government to “stop punishing few hard working Malawians through punitive taxes and newly introduced fees such as for passport and other Immigration permits.”
CHRR executive director Timothy Mtambo said in an interview: “We demand nothing less than a thorough explanation on what is happening with our economy. The kwacha is falling, fuel prices have gone up, so too are basic commodities, and government has unreasonably increased passport fees and Immigration permits.
“How can you explain or justify an increment of a passport from K15 000 to K48 000? This is cruelty of the highest order and denying Malawians services they deserve. We demand a convincing explanation or we are ready to mobilise Malawians for protests.”
Cedep executive director Gift Trapence said it was disheartening that there is a whole Ministry of Finance tasked to manage economic affairs but cannot address Malawians on serious economic issues that are besetting the nation.
“Government should not take citizens’ patience for naivety. We have a right to information. We have to know what is going on. Government has a lot of explaining to do,” he said.
But Minister of Information and Civic Education Kondwani Nankhumwa said in an interview on Friday government has never hidden the fact that there are economic problems which it is trying to address.
Nankhumwa said donor aid freeze following plunder of public resources at the Capital Hill are major reasons for the current economic problems.
He said government, through his ministry and Ministry of Finance, will this week hold a news conference to update Malawians on measures being undertaken to resolve the situation.
He said the two civil society groups are not justified to call for street protests before presenting their issue to government.
Said Nankhumwa: “They should have approached us and presented their case to us. Street protest may not resolve the problems. Economy issues are difficult to understand and if the dissemination of such information is not carefully handled, we may just end up scaring people.”
Explaining the hiked passport fees, Nankhumwa said the old fee was heavily subsidised, and that government was forced to remove some subsidies due to economic hardships.
But Mtambo said their action will depend on what government is going to say at the news conference.
Mtambo said: “If it won’t be convincing, we will go ahead with our plans. They must understand if any action is to be taken, it will be within the law.”
Commenting on the current economic situation, economist Dr Maxton Tsoka of the Centre for Social Research at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College said on the basis of official figures, the current inflation rate is far better than that of 2012 and 2013.
Tsoka said the effects of the recent devaluation have not yet been reflected in the official statistics.
Tsoka said: “Note that in 2012, after the massive devaluation and depreciation that followed the floatation of the kwacha, prices steadily rose. However, the price increases from January to March were more related to maize inflation than imported inflation.
“In terms of trends, prices generally rose in the period January 2012 to March 2013 and declined thereafter.”
He said this time around prices are likely to increase up to March and April 2015, but that the speed of the rise will depend on availability of maize on the market.
He said: “Current indications are that maize is still available such that the impact of the imported inflation induced by the devaluation will be dampened somewhat. The rise will not match that of 2012/13.”
He said imported inflation is ‘hidden’ in many of the items but is prominent in food, especially for the rich who consume imported foods, and transport because of the increased fuel prices.