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2021: A year that was

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Gilford Matonga

The year 2021 ran its full course at midnight and Malawians and governance bodies have described the year as a mixed bag – citing rising cost of living and the ravaging Covid-19 among the developments that made life difficult.

Promises as gimmick for votes

On the ground, residents in Blantyre said government does not seem to have a strategy with which to fulfill its campaign promises.

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They further argue that most of the promises the Tonse Alliance made in the campaign were a gimmick to win votes.

Jasper Phiri of Chilobwe Township said much as the issue of rising cost of basic commodities cannot be controlled by government, the situation has been exacerbated by the administration’s failure to create one million jobs as promised.

“We know rising cost of things is a global trend; however, it would have lessened the burden if the mega farms were opened, if the one million jobs were indeed created.

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“But we are living the same life, the same struggles to find money and on the other hand, prices of commodities keep going up. And 2021 has been the worst in as far as life expenses are concerned,” he said.

Elube Jiya from Machinjiri concurred with Phiri.

She said that the issue of Covid-19 has become an excuse for the failed promises.

“The issue of Covid-19 is not a small matter but now it has become an excuse for almost anything government is failing to do. At this point, we need to accept that Covid-19 is here to stay and we just have to make peace with it and so our activities have to be in line with this fact. So, this coming year, government should not take the same approach,” she said.

In Mzuzu, one Mercy Chirwa, a fresh maize seller in the city, also cited a high cost of living in the year endings having affected her business.

“The business was reduced to hand to mouth, we struggled a lot because basic commodities were up. We are hoping this would be looked into this coming year,” she said.

Second hand shoe vendor in the same city, Benson Ndalo, bemoaned what he called unfavourable conditions when accessing National Economic Empowerment Fund loans.

Governance, accountability questions

Willy Kambwandira of Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency said President Lazarus Chakwera and Vice President Saulos Chilima have failed to fulfill a quarter of their campaign promises.

However, Kambwandira said the President performed fairly well in terms of transparency and accountability.

“It was also encouraging to see oversight institutions such as Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), the Auditor General and Office of Ombudsman proactively rising to the occasion, providing the desired oversight role; the institutions in question were independently performing their functions.

“However, we are not happy with the continued hunting for information by citizens. Again, we are happy with sustained citizen demand for accountability. We saw Malawians taking to the streets to demand accountability from duty bearers,” he said.

And Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), in a statement issued on Thursday and signed by Chairperson Gift Trapence, accused Chakwera of failing to demonstrate assertiveness and decisively acting on matters of national concern.

HRDC argues this is creating a murky outlook of the governance situation in Malawi.

“Inefficiency in the public sector remains at its worst. Corruption is still rife. It is not surprising that by now the majority of Malawians, who voted for President Chakwera into power, have quickly begun to doubt the ability of the current leadership to deliver the promised Canaan,” reads part of the statement.

Public Affairs Committee (Pac) spokesperson Gilford Matonga said one of their major concerns is failure by President Lazarus Chakwera to meet his promise on cabinet assessment and reshuffle.

“We understand that it is his prerogative. However, we are trying to come back to him because he had said that he will work on that.

“We are glad he finally filled the spots of the two cabinet ministers who succumbed to Covid-19 even though we anticipated that he was going to do it earlier,” he said.

Continuing corruption

Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) Secretary General Father Henry Saindi said corruption and plunder of public resources continues to be a public malaise.

“We started very well in the sense that we had bumper harvest which meant majority households were food secure. We also started with a lot of hope and trust in the leadership, the majority hoped for a transformed Malawi.

“Corruption and plunder of public resources is a major sickness of the nation if we want to describe it that way. To the extent that this has affected public service delivery. You go in public hospitals, it is common knowledge that there are no medicines. Why? Because money is lost along the way due to corruption and plunder of public resources,” he said.

While commending the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) for putting up a gallant fight in combatting corruption in the country, Saindi said prosecutions and conclusions of the cases are paramount than mere arrests.

Fighting Covid-19

However, Saindi said one thing that the government should be commended for is the fight against Covid-19 where a lot of measures were put in place to prevent its spread.

“But also, the government made sure vaccines are available although uptake is still low,” he said.

George Jobe, who is Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) Executive Director, equally agreed that Malawi’s steps on tackling Covid-19 have been commendable.

“Introduction of Covid-19 vaccination on March 15 was a huge milestone, so was employment of medical personnel in various hospitals,” he said.

But he observed there is still a long way to go.

“Government promised to construct 900 hospitals and at the end of year we were told construction of 55 hospitals has started but also procurement of CT scanners,” he said.

He also bemoaned the continued shortages of drugs in hospitals.

Government responds

But reacting to the observations, government spokesperson, Gospel Kazako, said pinning the current economic challenges on Chakwera would be unfair.

He said this is a global problem created by numerous forces, mainly Covid-19.

“This is why President Chakwera has put together a Social Economic Recovery Plan to mitigate the pressure the economy is experiencing. This is a two-year plan which most positive minded and progressive economists are applauding,” he said.

On speed in decision making, Kazako said Chakwera believes in solid and well processed decision making that interfaces with his plans and objectives.

“He is within his speedometer provisions. It is not the speed, it is the outcome that is obtained out of the decision made,” he said.

On challenges affecting Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP), Kazako said government’s major focus is fighting and ending hunger.

“We will agree with any suggestion to review the AIP if it is within our objective. Anything that will endanger our national food security will not win our attention. First is food security,” he said.

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