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Yes, I have been sick – Peter Mutharika

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President Peter Mutharika Friday admitted he has been sick and had some surgery on his right shoulder while in the United States where he was attending the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

But he suggested some media outlets had exaggerated his condition.

Mutharika made the admission at a press conference Friday at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe five days after his arrival from the UNGA.

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He said he has had a long time problem of rheumatism.

Mutharika came into the interview room determined to prove his health condition when he waved at those that gathered with both hands, a departure from how he handled himself when he jetted back home on Sunday when he waved at the crowd and greeted the delegates with his left hand.

“I am alive. I will be around for a while. I am in excellent health. I have rheumatism. I have had it for so many years. I had a surgery on my shoulder and I had an injection when I was coming. My arm became numb when I came. I did not use it kuopa mundipweteka [you could injure me),” said Mutharika.

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He added: “My arm is 90 percent ok. I will get to 100 percent in two weeks. I can drive. I will be ok and will call [Isaac] Chilemba the boxer to box with me here in two weeks and I will knock him out in the third round.”

He chided rumours about his death, saying he has more than nine lives and he will live up to the elections in 2019.

“Some of you have been spreading rumours about my health hoping that you will have an easier opponent in 2019. You will have me as the opponent.

“And someone has been calling for my resignation [owing to the sickness]. He should rather organise his party. His party is imploding. In 2019, we will send them back into oblivion,” he said.

He challenged those that were interested in his health to have checked with his family.

“They know where to find my family,” he said.

About the death speculations, Mutharika said: “More than nine times I have died and resurrected. No one has escaped death more than I have.”

He referred himself as a Harry Houdini, a Hungary-born American who, fascinated with magic, “began performing and drew attention for his daring feats of escape”, according to online literature.

Mutharika went on to trash calls from some quarters for him to hand over power due to what they call incapacitation. He said an illness is not incapacitation.

Told that his communications people goofed for keeping his illness a secret, Mutharika defended his team.

“I cannot blame them. If you are looking for anyone to blame, then blame me. After the UNGA, many of my officials returned home. I had only a few left,” he said.

UNGA costs, entourage

Asked to disclose how much government spent on his UNGA trip and the number of delegates he took, Mutharika confessed he did not have details.

But he said most countries in the region had an average delegation of 120 people.

“I do not know the actual cost of the trip and the delegation. But it was very small delegation.

“I haven’t travelled to many international meetings I have been invited to so that I stop this criticism and also to save money. But we also lose a lot. A president has to travel. We lose a lot when we do not participate in such meetings.” said Mutharika.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francis Kasaila who Mutharika said would be in a position to give details about costs and entourage to the UNGA said in an interview after the press conference that it was not necessary for government to give such details.

He said people should focus on the results of such meetings and not the cost.

“I find it extremely difficult and not necessary to give that. Let us concentrate on what we are bringing from those meetings. I am sorry,” he said.

National woes

Asked to explain what his government is doing about the lack of action on corruption, Mutharika reiterated that his government was committed to fighting the problem.

Cooperating partners and the civil society organisations have raised concern that the DPP government is sitting back on fighting corruption.

He dismissed this observation, arguing that he is getting reports regularly from law enforcement agencies about their pursuit of cases of corruption and other high-profile criminal matters.

“I have Director (of ACB) and the police and they are doing their job. What else am I supposed to do?” he said.

On water and electricity problems affecting the country, Mutharika said this was largely due to lack of investment in requisite infrastructure by the previous administrations.

He said his government is taking steps to turn the tide around through investment in the sectors.

“We are accelerating investment in these sectors. In a year or less, the situation should start improving. But we should understand that there is no faster way we can fix things,” he said.

On hunger, he said government has procured adequate maize for distribution to the needy and for sale through Admarc markets.

“Nobody will die of hunger. We have already started maize distribution to those who cannot afford to buy it. But we will be opening Admarc markets next week. We are buying the maize at K250 per kg and we will be selling it at K250 per kg,” he said.

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