Envoys from western countries and local economic commentators on Friday welcomed President Peter Mutharika’s State-of-the-Nation Address (Sona) with a call for a crusade against corruption and more tangible action to match his tonic of repeated rhetoric on fiscal discipline within his government.
Other development partners also called for more focused action on the impending hunger situation the country is to face.
Mutharika’s one-and-a-half hour long speech principally reaffirmed the same message he has delivered since he ascended to the presidency in 2014 and had the same tone, a pack of pledges of legislative and policy shifts to aid, public sector reforms, financial prudence and sustainable growth.
Much longer than the previous one delivered last time, the President addressed in the imposing Chinese-built Parliament building, both diplomats and analysts scoured for details that will signal progress on previous pledges.
German Ambassador to Malawi Peter Woeste said while the President came under criticism in the past for delivering a short statement, his long speech Friday made it difficult to isolate keys issues.
Said Woeste: “Let me underline that it was a comprehensive and long speech. I know he was criticised in the past for delivering a short speech but I would have to say personally I would have preferred a shorter one focusing on key priorities.
“We will have to wait and see how government delivers on the many areas but what is very important in the next 12 months is the focus on humanitarian situation,” he said.
British High Commissioner Michael Nevin, probably attending his last Sona in Malawi with his tenure coming to an end also welcomed the President’s message but said there is more that needs to be done.
Said Nevin: “There was an emphasis and commitment to fund the investigating and prosecuting agencies, that is commendable, including the tabling of the Money Laundering Bill and there are several steps as well which we indicated in the op-ed which the government must consider as well,” said Nevin.
Nevin this week wrote an article that was published in The Nation where he asked government to fight corruption.
On the general framework of the speech, Nevin shared Woeste’s observation that it focused on many areas but said it was important for the government to stay on course with the reforms and live up to promises of fiscal discipline.
“Fiscal discipline is welcome because you got to create that macro-economic environment that will help the country address inflation in particular and help the economy growing.
Said Nevin: “There is also an emphasis on agriculture reforms so that the very difficult humanitarian situation which is coming up is not repeated. The weather and climate change is indeed the cause of that and part of the cause is getting much more productive on agriculture and getting more private sector than government involved.”
The Head of the European Union delegation to Malawi Marchel Germann said it is clear that the coming year will be difficult and government should prioritise on food security, irrigation, research and extension and also make room for the private sector.
“It will not be easy because Malawi has to follow its path of reforms. There will be more pressure on the budget but maintaining on the macroeconomic stability is absolutely key,” he said.
Consumer Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director John Kapito, said there was not much detail to inspire confidence that the battle against corruption is being won or engaged in an effective manner.
Said Kapito: “What I was not happy about is the issue of corruption. The President talked about corruption and how his government is fighting corruption and yet we are all affected by corruption. We know the framework the fight against corruption in this country is wrong. We have not benefited anything from the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
“When they want to do something they are only doing it against the enemies of government and yet we know there are many people who are corrupt in this government.”
“Mind you the issues of corruption are about perceptions; there are a lot of perceptions that there a lot people in government who are stealing money. Maybe the President needs to be assisted. But he needs to know that we are not happy with the message of corruption he delivered,” said Kapito.
Institute for Chartered Accountants of Malawi (Icam) chief executive officer Evelyn Mwapasa said the address touched all sectors of the economy about what has been done and what will be the focus going forward.
Said Mwapasa: “It was robust and ambitious. On fiscal prudence he specifically mentioned programme-based budgeting and in terms of controlling local debt he said exactly where he wants the country to be; it is ambitious but attainable,” she added.
Norwegian Ambassador to Malawi Kikkan Haugen described the speech as an honest assessment of the challenges the country is facing and sounded optimistic on the public reforms.
But Haugen said government should acknowledge the impatience for commitments to be implemented now.
UNDP resident coordinator Mia Seppo welcomed the commitment to roll out the national registration exercise and said the speech addressed the present situation while giving a future outlook but was quick to add that there was a need to study the speech in detail before providing a lengthy analysis. n