State House says it will not flinch in the face of criticism by the opposition and civil society organisations over Malawi President Joyce Bandaâ€™s maize distribution campaign and has since described the critics as people who are panicking ahead of 2014 general elections.
Presidential Press Secretary Steven Nhlane said this on Saturday in reaction to criticism from Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director John Kapito and to survey results which overwhelmingly disapprove of the President personally distributing maize.
The survey was commissioned by Nation Publications Limited (NPL) and asked if respondents were in agreement with the President personally going out to distribute maize.
The survey was conducted by our correspondents in 18 districts. We also received responses via our short messaging service (SMS) in addition to social media.
Out of the 1 306 we reached, 842 answered â€˜no,â€™ meaning they did not approve of what Banda is currently doing.
Kapito said the result of the survey vindicated what he and his fellow civil society leaders have been complaining about that the Presidentâ€™s going out to give out maize and flour is an insult to Malawians and a mockery to the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP).
â€œPersonally as Joyce Banda, she can give out maize and flour, but as President, she is no longer â€˜Joyce Banda Foundationâ€™ and, if she has maize or money, she can give it to WFP [World Food Programme] or the Department of Disaster Preparedness and Relief to distribute and not use the maize as a campaign tool.
â€œShe has closed her ears too quickly and when people close their ears too quickly they are about to cut their head off. Government should listen to some of these comments being made and repeating the mistakes previous regimes have made without moving on will help no one,â€ he said.
But Nhlane said he could not comment on Kapitoâ€™s observation because he represents only himself, has done nothing in Malawi and is deliberately choosing to misunderstand things for his own personal agenda.
â€œThe issue has been blown out of proportion mostly by opposition parties who are worried of the popularity the President is gaining. We have said before that the President doesnâ€™t solely go out to distribute maize; she takes advantage of national functions.
â€œShe was at the police academy in Zomba and she used that opportunity to distribute maize, on her way to Lilongwe the other day, she stopped in Mwanza to distribute maize. So, the issue of the exercise being costly does not arise,â€ said Nhlane.
Asked why the President cannot leave maize distribution to junior officials which would make the exercise cheaper, Nhlane said the President has only handed out maize six times while the maize distribution has happened 40 times elsewhere courtesy of delegation.
He also trashed assertions that Banda is using the maize to campaign, saying government will not be afraid to do what is right for fear of criticism.
â€œMalawi has 15 million people, the President cannot be taking orders from every one of them. She has a duty, she consults and the issue of executive arrogance does not arise. Look at the end result and see if it is wrong,â€ said Nhlane.
He refused to recognise the survey results and labelled them a â€˜sham aimed at cheating people, discrediting the President and campaigning for some opposition leadersâ€™. He said he knows reporters at NPL who are taking money from opposition leaders to discredit the President.
â€œWe did our own survey and we found that more than 1 000 people voted yes in the survey, but you did not publish the results. Let us go to TNM and see the tallies. When should I come to pick you so we can go together?
â€œWhatâ€™s your methodology? Who were you talking to in your survey? What are the ages of the respondents? What has gone wrong with NPL? It seems you are throwing journalism to the wind. Analyse issues and donâ€™t just give platforms to people such as Kapito,â€ said Nhlane.
He also justified the Presidentâ€™s frequent local trips, saying she is justified to travel because 85 percent of the people live in rural areas.
â€œShe must go out. How will the 85 percent of Malawians know government policies such as the ERP if the President doesnâ€™t go out to explain to them? People donâ€™t understand. The President is focused on fixing the economy, the ERP is working and the economy does not get fixed in a day. Let us give her a chance to perform,â€ he said.
One of our respondents, who voted yes in the survey, Ackson Kalaile Banda, said the President needs to go out there in the rural areas to establish first-hand the problems masses are facing.
He said the late Bingu wa Mutharika failed because he relied on second-hand information which was falsified by his advisors.
Some who voted â€˜yesâ€™ also said the President is promoting the spirit of sharing.
The â€˜noâ€™â€™ camp wonders why the President is spending huge amounts to give out cheap maize when the money spent on her trips can make a big difference in other sectors such as health.
Some said Banda is campaigning and using hunger as a fear factor to scare rural masses into her wings.