Mutharika's three years in power
BY SELLINA NKOWANI
08:45:40 - 24 May 2007
On the morning of May 24, 2004, Chichiri Stadium -- which has now reverted to its old name Kamuzu Stadium – was filled to capacity to welcome the country’s new president in the name of Bingu wa Mutharika.
The new president was sworn in amid mixed reactions. Mgwirizano Coalition headed by Gwanda Chakuamba contested the election results although he was third in the race, Malawi Congress Party president John Tembo was second.
During the campaign leading to the 2004 Elections, Mutharika might not have enjoyed popularity as a politician but former president Bakili Muluzi saw in Mutharika an engineer who would better the economy of the economy. Perhaps that was Mutharika’s strongest asset and people voted for him.
Talking tough in his inaugural speech, Mutharika stunned many who underrated him by laying down some of the things that he wanted to see achieved in the country with him as the president.
He spelt out tough economic recovery measures, zero tolerance to corruption which became his cache phrase, theft and abuse of power which was not the case with his predecessor.
"I shall ensure strict investigation of politicians and public officers at all levels and let me repeat, at all levels who are found in corruption, theft, mismanagement and abuse of power in all forms," he said.
Today, as Mutharika clocks 3 years in power, it only saves us right to reflect on some of his achievements and weaknesses in these years.
The economic engineer as Muluzi used to call him has lived to this name in as far the economy is concerned. In his acceptance speech, Mutharika mentioned that he wanted to deal with high and unsustainable interest rates, unstable exchange rates and high inflation rates.
Mutharika has scored highly on the economic front as now the country enjoys stable exchange rates and in the past three months, the bank rate has dropped from 25 percent to 20 percent which has resulted in some commercial banks to cut their lending rates as well. It is also expected that this will increase the private sector borrowing as well as consumer borrowing.
Not only that, the general increase in the price of goods and services has gone down with the inflation as of April this year at 8.4 percent from 8.6 in March this year where as during the same period last year the inflation rate was at 16.1 percent.
His sound economic policies and fiscal discipline have earned him a vote of confidence from international donors resulting in the debt cancellation.
Early this year, the World Bank gave Malawi Government US$340 million (K47.6 billion) which will help it implement the Malawi Growth Development Strategy (MDGS). This money is to help in the Agriculture sector. This was additional money apart from the 90 percent debt the International Monetary Fund and World Bank had cancelled. To stress that Mutharika had restored the confidence through his sound policies, Paris Club of Creditors completely wiped out the remaining debts.
However, the economic area that needs more attention is investment. The stability of exchange rates, reduction of bank rate and inflation rate has not attracted much investment.
On food security Mutharika assured the nation that he wanted to turn Malawi into a hunger free nation that should be able to feed itself.
He also said it was necessary to turn Malawi from an importing to exporting country. Mutharika in his 3 years has managed to defeat hunger that characterised the well being of most Malawians in the United Democratic Front led government.
The subsidy programme, despite some hiccups like theft of coupons and smuggling of fertiliser to neighbouring countries has been successful and the country can now afford to sell maize to neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe. The construction of maize silos in Mangochi is a clear indication of how determined Mutharika is as far as ensuring food security is concerned.
“It is dichotomy that although Malawi is an agricultural country we are unable to feed ourselves, I am determined to change this and the focus of my programmes for agricultural sector is to make Malawi a hunger free nation,” Mutharika said.
The fertiliser subsidy saw many smallholder farmers buying fertiliser at cheaper prices unlike the starter packs which only offered 5 kilogrammes of fertiliser per person which targetted poor and vulnerable people.
Bringing to book those who abuse their power in all forms as he said during the acceptance speech, has seen Yusuf Mwawa facing the long arm of the law when he abused his powers as minister of education by withdrawing money from the Special Client Account for personal use.
However, much still needs to be done to make sure that the Anti Corruption Bureau is as independent as possible. Opposition leaders have, in the three years complained that ACB target those in the opposition and ACB has been used as a to deal with Mutharika’s ‘enemies.’
Mutharika has also scored highly in infrastructure development. The construction of the Karonga-Chitipa Road which is underway, Kamphata- Nkhoma Road which is functional now, the Zomba-Jali-Phalombe-Chitakale Road and the Shire-Zambezi Waterway talks volumes of a president who is determined to transform the country.
However, politically Mutharika has not scored highly. Some people say the formation of Democratic Progressive Party would derail him in his pursuit for a better Malawi. The stand off between him and his predecessor remains a big concern.
Some people has also questioned the bloating of his cabinet to 42. Ironically, France which has an impressive economy has only 15 ministers in its lean cabinet. Mutharika’s first cabinet had only 28 members, it rose to 36 and his Cabinet announced recently has 42 members.
“I am painfully aware that the reduction in size of the cabinet is a bitter pill to swallow. Malawi should make a sacrifice to accept a lean and highly committed cabinet that can deliver,” he said during his inauguration three years ago.
As it has been the case, it is everyone’s wish that Mutharika should concentrate on developing the country and leave politicking for politicians who are not development conscious.
As Mutharika starts a new journey into his fourth year into office, we all hope that he would live by his declaration he made three years ago and change the lives of many people.
"Malawi is not a poor country and let me repeat that Malawi is not a poor country, but it is the people of Malawi who are poor," he said.