President Lazarus Chakwera Friday delivered his first State of the Nation Address (Sona) at Parliament, a speech in which he clearly outlined his vision to restore Malawi’s glory.
At exactly 10:15 am, Clerk of Parliament, Fiona Kalemba, read proclamation of first meeting of 49th Session of Parliament, to pave way for the delivery of the Sona.
Chakwera was no stranger to the august house, where for five years, he had been delivering scathing speeches against the previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, before his ascension to the presidency following the June 23 fresh presidential election.
After inspecting a guard of honour, followed by a 21-gun salute, President Chakwera made his way into the chamber and got down to business.
In the Sona, titled “Restoring Warmth to the Heart of Africa” Chakwera clearly pointed out what was going wrong in the previous regime.
“The truth is our most potent weapon for development, as well as our defence against the false narratives often told about our country,” Chakwera said.
The President vehemently rejected assertions that Malawi is a poor country, stating that Malawi “is a country stripped of its God-given wealth and potential by syndicates of people in the public sector who exploit decades of bad government policies and practices to enrich themselves and their private sector accomplices”.
“Ours is a country intentionally mismanaged to sustain and commodify a perpetual state of economic misery that affords certain entities, especially political parties and organisations, a raison d’etre at the expense of Malawians. In short, the poverty of our people is man-made, which means it can and must be unmade,” he said.
In his 82-minute speech, Chakwera said to reform the executive, his government has embarked on a year-long orientation of the public sector to his five pillars: servant leadership, uniting Malawi, prospering together, ending corruption, and rule of law.
He said to fast-track this process, he has already put in place key performance indicators for ensuring that he and his cabinet lead by example in the pillars which are popularly called SUPER Hi5.
He also said as a demonstration of his commitment to ending corruption, his administration is making the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) fully independent and resourced to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.
“You will also be pleased to note, Madam Speaker, that in fulfilment of my promise to govern by the rule of law, I will appear before this Session of Parliament three times to answer Members’ questions, the only President in Malawi’s history to do so as required by the Constitution,” he said.
Chakwera also said his government will put in place measures that will ensure that the Judiciary is fully supported. He said his administration considers it unacceptable that the entire Judiciary is always allocated less than one percent of the National Budget.
“There can be no New Malawi until our courts are able to administer justice without hindrance. All Malawians are equal under the law, so justice must never be the preserve of the rich or powerful,” he added.
Chakwera also assured Parliament of his support on development of the 2020-2025 Parliament of Malawi Strategic Plan, automation of both the Hansard Transcription System and Chamber Voting, The establishment of Parliament Television and Radio, the construction of new office blocks and the construction of 193 Constituency Offices.
He also said his vision for the health sector is to give all Malawians access to quality, equitable and affordable healthcare through the Universal Health Coverage.
Chakwera revealed that K1 billion has been allocated in the 2020/21 budget for immunisation.
He said as a way of fighting malaria, with a total budget of about K12.7 billion, his administration is extending the Indoor Residual Spraying being implemented in Nkhotakota and Mangochi to Nkhata-Bay and Balaka.
On the fight against Covid-19, Chakwera said in the 2020/2021 budget, K1.3 billion has been allocated to central hospitals and the Ministry’s headquarters, while K2.7 billion will go to district councils.
On education, he said his administration will fulfill the promise of re-introducing Junior Certificate of Examinations (JCE)
“Also promised was the removal of the Quota system, and I want to assure all Malawians that while the previous administration made sure that its Quota system was gone, my administration will make sure that it is dead,” he added.
On labour, Chakwera observed that the influx of expatriates who have no unique expertise is depleting jobs for Malawians.
“For that reason, my Administration will ensure that only those expatriates with transferrable skills we have in short supply are welcome to work within our borders,” he said.
He said the same principle applies to issues of land, which he said must be protected and utilised to benefit Malawians.
The President also promised to turn Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) into a people-centred and professional regulator, free the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) from political interference, and make the Malawi Posts Corporation a profit-making enterprise through the digitisation of postal services.
“All this will require reforming the Ministry of Information as a key policy driver in the ICT sector. The first signature reform, in this regard, will be a functional review to restructure the Department of E-Government, the National College of Information Technology, and the Department of Information. The second signature reform is operationalising the Access to Information Act, which will take place in less than a month,” he said.
On fiscal performance, Chakwera said the 2019/2020 fiscal year had a revenue of K1.527 trillion against a total expenditure of K1.841 trillion, which means the year ended with an estimated deficit of K315 billion.
The President said cumulative public debt has resulted in total public debt stock of K4.1 trillion as at the end of June 2020.
“Of major concern is that 57.3 percent of this total debt stock is domestic, representing 33 percent of GDP. In the past year alone, public debt increased 21 percent by K430 billion. This position has resulted in interest charges reaching the region of 36.6 percent of GDP,” he said.
Chakwera said the success of Malawi’s economy going forward will be anchored on solid institutional foundation.
He pledged that his administration will continue putting in place measures that will promote agriculture, tourism industry and improve foreign relations.
Chakwera said the 2020/2021 budget will contribute to the achievement of the promises the Malawian people voted for in the June 23 fresh presidential election.
He cited investment in infrastructure, provision of loans to an increased number of beneficiaries through the Malawi Enterprise Development Fund (Medf), and revitalising farming through the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) that will give farmers access to fertilizer.
“My Administration will exercise strict fiscal discipline. This will require getting monthly expenditure reports from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAS) of Government for the previous months as a basis for additional funding,” he said.
Health Activist Maziko Matemba described the speech as progressive, saying it highlighted key issues affecting the country.
“I am delighted to hear the President’s acknowledgement of community health as a key milestone in delivering health care to the majority of Malawians, including Covid-19 crisis we have now. Our expectation is to see the planners making these important commitments implemented for the benefit of majority of Malawians,” he said.
Governance expert Mankhumbo Munthali said Chakwera has set a tone for his administration by aligning his Sona with what is in the manifesto.
“The issue around fiscal discipline will be very critical. As expected, we need a government that will be very ready to make sure that government money is not lost and issues of corruption have to be prioritised,” he said.
Munthali said while the President has made a lot of pledges, he has to also put in the budget projects that can materialise within the financial year.
Parliament will reconvene on Monday.