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‘Malawi government priorities upside down’

Malawi government has been taken to task for setting its priorities upside down after releasing K55 million to the Local Government and Rural Development Ministry to disburse to vendors in seven markets across the country that recently suffered market fires.

The criticism follows a collapse in the government service delivery system with key sectors such as health the worst affected.

Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Kondwani Nankhumwa, Tuesday confirmed to The Daily Times that Treasury released the amount to be used for that purpose which is being treated as an emergency.

“I have received a report from our accounts officials that the Treasury has indeed funded us K55 million,” he said.

Meanwhile, one of the country’s civil society organisation leaders, Gift Trapence of Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), has said the country needs to have a policy framework that can regulate compensation.

“The issues of handouts and appeasement have been like a culture in this country where politicians would want to use those issues in order to siphon money through such system,” argued Trapence.

He said government’s priorities are upside down, considering that the country is in a crisis as there are no medicines in the hospitals.

“In Rumphi people were demonstrating today (Tuesday) and another group of CSOs will demonstrate again meaning that we do not have drugs,” he said, adding that government should not use market fires to divert funds to serve political interest.

Trapence also said government is treating symptoms and not the disease in as far as market fires are concerned.

“Now it’s a common accident where every month we are having these accidents. Government needs an action plan on how it can prevent fire accidents and [should] not use the fire accidents in order to get money from the Treasury because the real victims are not beneficiaries of such funds,” said Trapence.

He then called on the business community to start insuring their property.

“We have insurance companies that can help in this aspect. Government and councils should encourage small-scale business owners to insure their property,” he said.

Treasury spokesperson, Nations Msowoya, however, argued that if government is being queried on why it has settled for this and not that then it is like suggesting that government should shut down.

“Every need has its uniqueness. Those people have families to feed. I don’t know what this argument means and I find it very subjective,” said Msowoya.

He said this has been treated as an emergency, and even the K55 million does not attend to a tenth of the needs of the vendors.

A vendor, whose stall was gutted in the Kasungu Karket fire, Samson Janitoni, told The Daily Times in a telephone interview yesterday that they are not aware that government is planning to compensate them.

“Government never told us anything and we are in the dark and unaware of what to do next. We have forlorn hope and not sure what becomes of us,” said Janitoni.

Nankhumwa, however, explained why the Treasury released the resources:

“What we did as a ministry when those incidents happened was to make several applications to various organisations to help us with money to bail out our vendors so that they are able to reconstruct their structures since we were overwhelmed,” he said.

Nankhumwa said, unfortunately, they did not get any response from these organizations, prompting them to refer the issue to the Treasury which responded favourably.

“They (Treasury) informed me to come up with a programme to visit all the markets that were affected by the fire because the Treasury now is ready to issue cheques following government procedures as all the cheques go through the Accountant General,” he said.

Seven markets, including one in Mwanza, Salima, Area 18 (Lilongwe), Kasungu, Mzimba, Mzuzu and Matabwa (also in Mzuzu) were recently gutted by fires whose causes are still not known.

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