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Peter Mutharika bows to pressure

Restructures cabinet committee on Covid-19

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President Peter Mutharika, on Tuesday, announced the restructuring of the Cabinet Committee on Coronavirus responding to calls to nationalise the Covid-19 response. On Sunday vice president Saulos Chilima said government’s response on Covid-19 pandemic was facing a deficit of public trust and Malawi Law Society (MLS), earlier, questioned the legality of Cabinet Committee on Coronavirus.

In his state of the nation address, Mutharika renamed the new committee Presidential Taskforce on Coronavirus and said will be co-chaired by a cabinet minister and a professor in Public Health.

The committee will include the leader of opposition, Chairperson of the Public Affairs Committee (Pac), the Christian Health Association of Malawi (Cham) and a member of the chiefs’ council.

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The President also announced the introduction of an emergency cash transfer programme which will see a monthly payment of K35,000 for the next three months to cushion vulnerable households from the economic effects of various restrictions his government is implementing to contain the pandemic.

“We are introducing an emergency cash transfer programme to serve small scale businesses in and around our major markets in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Zomba and others. This is an extended cash transfer facility to support Malawians who depend on the markets for their survival. Government will target a minimum of 172,000 households in these areas, representing an estimated 35 percent of the urban population,” he said.

He said the program will be implemented for a period of six months translating into three months of response and three months of recovery.

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“Each identified household will be paid electronically through mobile payments K35,000 per month and the amount is based on the prevailing government minimum wage rate. “My government will continue implementing already instituted and announced measures such as restricting movement to contain the spread of the pandemic; we will also continue to recruit more health workers, establishing more testing centers with a target of 15 testing centers across the country in the next three months so that we effectively fight the pandemic,” Mutharika said.

In an interview later, Leader of Opposition in parliament Robin Lowe said he welcomed the move but said the new committee should save the best interests of Malawians. “If this is committee includes the church, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and experts, then we are ready to serve in it, but if it is business as usual just like the first one, then I am afraid I cannot committee myself because we need a committee that will serve in the best interests of Malawians and not political interests,” Lowe said.

Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) Chairperson Gift Trapence it was important that government clearly spell out how much will be spent and criteria to be in place to identify the poor in the country. He said all the organisation has been calling on the government to do was to provide safety nets for Malawians to cope with the effects of the pandemic.

“The second issue is that any lockdown should protect the poor from dying with hunger, there must be clear safety nets on how social economic rights of Malawians will be protected,” Trapence said. Livingstonia synod of the CCAP’s Church and Society program’s Executive Director Moses Mkandawire said it was very important for Mutharika to address Malawians on the issue.

“We want an inclusive Covid 19 response where the welfare of Malawians is its sole purpose where there is accountability in the way funds are being used” Mkandawire said.

The Malawi Law Society (MLS) opined that upon the president’s declaration of a state of disaster, the committee that was instituted on March 10, 2020 ceased to have any mandate and that the responsibility to manage the disaster would now have been in the hands of the minister for Disaster Preparedness and Relief Everton Chimulirenji.

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