Political and sector stakeholders have given a wish-list of issues they want President Lazarus Chakwera to tackle in his maiden State of the Nation Address (Sona) in Parliament this Friday.
Input from the stakeholders indicates high expectations from the President who was ironically a fierce critic of Sonas delivered by his predecessor Peter Mutharika between May 2014 and May 2019. That time, Chakwera was Leader of Opposition in Parliament.
The stakeholders’ wish-list includes management of the coronavirus pandemic, reopening of schools, challenges facing the health sector, Affordable Input Programme (AIP), youth empowerment and the economy.
In an interview, Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) executive director Benedicto Kondowe said he expected Chakwera to outline a clear vision for the education sector which, he alleged, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration led by Mutharika failed to articulate.
He said: “We expect that he speaks on reopening of schools [after the premature closure in March due to Covid-19] and the commitment of government towards such.
“But that said, the budget provision is still inadequate because out of a K5 billion projection, only K2.1 billion is available. So, we need clarity on how the deficit will be addressed.”
Kondowe also said there is need to address how Initial Primary Teacher Education (IPTE) 13 teachers would be employed and how the issue of early marriages and teen pregnancies would be addressed and provide direction.
On his part, Malawi Health Equity Network executive director George Jobe said their expectation is for the President to touch on increased budgetary allocation to health to surpass the Abuja Declaration benchmark that 15 percent of the national budget should go to the health sector.
He also said Chakwera should explain how some critical equipment would be procured and maintained. The equipment includes X-ray machines, ventilators/oxygen concentrators, ambulances and scanning machines.
Jobe said besides completion of Phalombe District Hospital, Domasi and Mponela rural hospitals, the President should tackle the issue of increasing the number of health facilities to attain the five-kilometre radius between health facilities.
He also said the Covid-19 pandemic was another critical area that needs to be addressed.
In the agriculture sector, agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula said he expects the President to provide more clarity on the AIP which is targeting to enable four million smallholder farmers access fertiliser at K4 500 per 50 kilogramme bag.
He said: “The President may not go into detail, but he should explain to the nation as to how does it differs from Fisp [Farm Input Subsidy Programme] and measures put in place to make this a success.”
Nkhono Mvula also said government should address outstanding grievances among technical staff in the Ministry of Agriculture and how the stand-off would be addressed.
Governance commentator Undule Mwakasungula said through the address, Chakwera should demonstrate proactiveness in maintaining international relations, mainly considering that his predecessor did little in this area.
He also said Chakwera should state how he would ensure unity, reconciliation and address ethnic divisions.
In a separate interview, Leader of Opposition in Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa said the opposition expects Chakwera to spell out his agenda on Malawi’s social and economic development.
He said: “Remember Chakwera promised Malawians heaven on earth. We believe all his promises will be factored in, including cheap fertiliser, creation of one million jobs, duty-free week and promotions of civil servants.”
Nankhumwa also said a review of corporate tax to ease the Covid-19 burden among private sector players should be addressed.
On the possible tone of the Sona, Jolly Ntaba, head of Journalism and Media Studies at The Polytechnic—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said Chakwera should use a unifying tone during delivery of his Sona.
He said while many Malawians are looking forward to hearing the President speak on several issues, including impunity and misuse of resources by the previous regime, the tone should reflect assurance and hope.
Presidential press secretary Brian Banda asked for more time to consult on how the President was preparing for his maiden Sona as well as issues to be tackled.
The forthcoming meeting of Parliament is also expected to analyse and pass the full 2020/21 National Budget, among other business.
The meeting also comes at a time some civil society leaders alleged that the Tonse Alliance administration was planning to move a motion in Parliament to change the status of the Office of the Vice-President to that of a Prime Minister.