The seemingly unusual presence of senior Cabinet ministers and other government representatives failed to intimidate delegates to the two-day Public Affairs Committee (PAC) 5th All Inclusive Stakeholders Conference in Blantyre as speakers emptied their chests to attack some indefensible government policies.
President Peter Mutharika’s administration had dispatched to the indaba—which ended last evening—nearly half of his Cabinet, a development some observers said was a strategy to intimidate and silence the speakers.
Some of the Cabinet members included Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe; Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Samuel Tembenu, Minister of Labour and ManPower Development Henry Mussa and Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati.
While government representatives appeared to be in control of discussions during the first day, the situation took a different path yesterday when speakers took turns to attack government on how it is handling some delicate issues like the health delivery system and food situation.
Vocal human rights campaigner Billy Mayaya said government tried to intimidate delegates with its huge representation, but the attempts proved futile because Malawians know exactly what is on the ground.
“I think government tried to intimidate participants to this process so that delegates fail to make statements that do not support the process, but those were feeble attempts to thwart the truth because Malawians know exactly what is happening both politically and economically,” said Mayaya.
However, chairperson of Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) Robert Mkwezalamba and United Democratic Front (UDF) spokesperson Ken Ndanga said they did not see the ‘big’ government presence as a problem, but rather the missing out of some key ministries.
Said Ndanga: “I think the problem was the missing out of the two key ministries of Agriculture and Health. Most of the challenges currently facing the country involve the two ministries and I don’t think the presence of other ministers really made any difference.”
Mkwezalamba said much as the ministers and other government representatives may have been defensive or intimidating in their approaches, “they have listened to Malawians’ cases and hopefully together they will come up with corrective measures to the challenges.”
The issue of food situation, particularly the availability of maize in Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) depots turned emotional as government tried to defend the situation at the expense of hungry citizens.
The delegates booed Mutharika’s chief adviser on economic affairs Collins Magalasi throughout his contribution as he tried to defend the food situation and authenticate statistics on available maize which he said was enough to feed starving Malawians.
“In total we have 50 500 metric tonnes [MT] of maize which has not been released to the people… People have decided to mislead themselves and this is about the maize that we are talking about, this maize is more than what we need,” said Magalasi.
However, his statement stirred a hornets’ nest when people demanded government to prove that there is enough maize by making the commodity available in all Admarc depots countrywide.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson Jessie Kabwila, in her contribution, censured government for living in denial, arguing it was an insult for it to publicly claim that there was enough maize when people were hungry because they cannot access the grain.
“I think for us to stand here and tell people that there is maize is an insult to Malawians. The situation out there is dire. If the maize is there, honestly without looking at colours or whatever, please get the maize into Admarc depots. There are things we can joke about, but seriously when it comes to the maize situation, that is a painful disaster,” lamented Kabwila.
PAC held a two-day stakeholders conference under the theme Defining Solutions to Economic and Political Direction in Malawi with efforts to find solutions to the problems dogging the country. n