I do share in the raging frustrations of Malawians over the mess that has characterised this year’s Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) and duly welcome the step taken by President Lazarus Chakwera to (as empowered by Section 89 of the Constitution) fire Lobin Lowe who was the Minister of Agriculture together with his deputy Madalitso Kambauwa Wirima.
To put it bluntly, the mess which these two individuals were presiding over was an accident waiting to happen and t is no wonder that Malawians ended up being duped in the course of those botched efforts to secure AIP fertiliser in the United Kingdom, which saw a cool K750 million landing in the hands of a firm that had little or nothing to do with fertiliser procurement.
Over and above that, the process kick-started by President Chakwera of purging the public system should cascade down the ranks and we hope sanity will be restored so that public funds and other resources are secured.
This is not the first time he is kicking individuals out of Cabinet. We have seen him showing the exit the likes of Kezzie Msukwa, Newton Kambala, Ulemu Msungama, Ken Kandodo, Felix Mlusu and Roy Kachale under various circumstances and certainly the show must go on.
At a time Malawians’ anxiety had reached pitch high, Lowe on Monday morning had the decency to nonchalantly go on a wild goose chase in the name of monitoring arrival of AIP fertiliser at Kanengo and while at it, tried to fob off inquisitive journalists who, on behalf of Malawians, had tried to pose some serious questions on the controversy that has rocked this year’s AIP.
Now, much as it could be that the former minister might not be personally liable as argued by some and that it should be the technocrats at the ministry and its partners that should face the music, I strongly believe that as the line minister, he ought to have reigned in everyone that was involved in the AIP right from the start. The signs and warnings were there, including the time Chakwera publicly told Lowe in Ntcheu to put his house in order by September 2022 and therefore he should have picked up the cue.
But make no mistake; Lowe has previously proved to be an agile leader and it was not by chance that the President had entrusted him to oversee such an important ministry. Before assuming power when Chakwera had relinquished his Leader of Opposition (LoP) role to pursue a presidential bid, it was in fact Lowe who ably wore the robe of LoP as entrusted by the Malawi Congress Party. I therefore still hold him in high esteem and hopefully, he will bounce back from this setback. Perhaps, rather than looking at it as an unkind act, Lowe should hail this as an act that rescued him from himself because at the rate he was going, things might have even ended much worse than they have.
And now as the new era dawns, we fully welcome new Agriculture Minister Sam Kawale who has been shifted from the Ministry of Lands and by the look of it, it seems he has already hit the ground running from the time he was placed in charge of the AIP committee, considering the race against time we have found ourselves in. It will not be smooth sailing, especially considering the task at hand which has already been rocked by controversies during the time of his predecessor.
As we heard from Chakwera, following termination of the deal with ‘that UK firm’, the Attorney General has put in motion the recovery process of the $725,000 which was paid as processing fee (apparently, one of the central banks in the two countries has agreed to this while the receiving bank of the second payment has frozen the account). He emphasised that as a country, we now need to rescue this year’s AIP – emergency procurement has been kick-started, which has seen part of the consignment of NPK and UREA fertiliser and that financing has already been secured to complete the purchase.
But perhaps the bit which most people are excited about and cannot wait to see being acted upon is pertaining to his Cabinet where the President said he will be announcing more changes in due course and he added:
“Malawians deserve results and they elected me to see results…”
This should fire up those who are privileged to be serving in Cabinet to put in their best, if they have already been at their best. It is not time to be pulling up one’s socks but rather taking stock of what one has delivered.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).