Mr. Speaker Sir, I had planned to begin by saying that I stand here on behalf of the Malawi Congress Party and the Opposition, but after listening to the address delivered here on Friday, 10th November 2017, by His Excellency the State President during the opening of the 1st Meeting of the 47th Session of Parliament, I realized that doing so would not suffice. This is because against all my hopes, the President’s address cemented and metastasized a depressing fact to which we must now all reconcile ourselves. That fact is that we Malawians are in the unenviable position of having a President and an Executive so incompetent at leading and so insensitive to the suffering of the people they govern that whenever any of us speaks here, we must speak not on behalf of our political parties, but at the behest of Malawians. I say to all the members of this House, including the three newly elected and sworn-in MCP parliamentarians: the honeymoon of by-electioneering and politicking is over.
The statement that President Mutharika made here three days ago while Malawians from Nsanje to Chitipa sink deeper into abject poverty was so shamelessly self-aggrandizing, self-absorbed, and self-delusional that this gathering is now a critical watershed moment for our nation. The hour has now come when speaking in this House on behalf of our parties is not enough. We must speak as men and women who love our country more than our camps; we must speak as men and women who serve our People more than our Parties; we must speak as men and women who fear the Maker more than the Ministers. We must speak boldly, even at the risk of being branded enemies of the state. We must speak truthfully, even at the risk of being maligned by a misguided mob of mercenaries masquerading as cadets.
We must do what the President fails to do whenever he comes here, that is to speak the truth to Malawians, for Malawians, and about Malawians. His speech, mistitled Rising Above macroeconomic stability, will go down in our nation’s history as the latest in a series of missed opportunities to directly and honestly address the deepening plight and delayed aspirations of Malawians. Now, Mr. Speaker Sir, if the President was ignorant of what our people’s plight and aspirations are, he would be forgiven for this failure, but ignorance is not an excuse a man of his learning and resources can take refuge in. He knows what our people are suffering under his leadership, because it makes front page headlines every week. He knows the dire living conditions his government is subjecting our people to, because we ourselves tell him on a regular basis in and outside this House.
Mr. Speaker Sir, the President knows that Malawians are frustrated and angered by his chronic failures of leadership, because it was only twenty-seven days ago that they voted in three constituency by-elections held in Nsanje-Lalanje, Lilongwe Msozi North, and Lilongwe City South East, all of which his party lost. And yet, instead of coming here with the kind of humility that shows that he has heard the voice and cries of the people, the President chose to come here to parade his malignant arrogance and to lecture Malawians represented here about how Parliament is not “Government”.
Instead of coming here to address the frustration and outcry Malawians expressed with unmistakable clarity in these by-elections, the President chose to come here to proclaim an imaginary litany of accomplishments that do not hold up under the scrutiny of basic and well-established facts. And as I said, ignorance of a problem that is a matter of fact may be forgiven, but ignoring the problem you know is there cannot. And in particular, there are four brutal facts that the President refuses to admit or address, and whatever the nature and substance of our deliberations in this sitting, these are facts we cannot afford to ignore.
Mr. Speaker Sir, the first brutal fact that the President and his Cabinet refuse to admit or address is that Malawians across the country are finding life miserable under his government. While the President spent much of his address painting a rosy picture of Malawi based on an academic selection of certain economic indicators, Malawians know that if life in Malawi is a rose, it is a rose whose petals are in the hands of the corrupt and powerful, while the rest scramble for the thorns they leave behind.
Mr. Speaker Sir, a case in point is his ill-timed lifting of the ban on exporting maize, which has been done so late that it will guarantee the enrichment of politically connected politicians and the impoverishment of our farmers. But instead of addressing this head on, the President came in here and falsely accused us of promoting the exportation of all the maize. Meanwhile, there is uncertainty about whether there will be another export ban next year, which makes farmers hesitant in their operations.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that the losses maize farmers have suffered as a result of the ill-timed export ban mean that many of them may struggle to buy farm inputs for growing maize in the 2017/18 season, since the Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP) only helps less than a third of the farmers affected. And such disastrous agricultural policies are not confined to the maize crop.
Mr. Speaker Sir, as I speak, pigeon pea farmers are now only able to sell their produce for a paltry K40 per kilogram, a 90% drop from what they could sell it for last year. And this was preventable, for we know that the Indian Government was eager to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with this government, but the Minister responsible failed to close the deal for nothing more than selfish reasons, reducing our farmers to beggars. What the President and his Government need to do now to stop the bleeding is to immediately communicate to farmers across the country about the crops they should grow in the next season and for which markets have already been earmarked.
Additionally, I call on Government to set aside funds in the next budget or the Mid-Year Budget review to purchase produce from smallholder farmers in a timely manner, as well as funds in the 2018/19 budget for a quota allocation to farmers to supply maize directly to the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) to protect them from the predatory actions of traders and merchants. These are the real solutions our people deserve to the real problems they have, not fictitious descriptions of how wonderful life is.
Similarly, Mr. Speaker Sir, while the President struts about reductions in the digits of the economy’s inflation and interest rates, Malawians are wrestling monthly with serious reductions in the digits and value of their income and revenue. Despite the debatable claims that the stability of the currency proves that all is well, one undebatable sign that Malawians are earning less and less is the fact that the Malawi Revenue Authority which collects taxes on what Malawians are earning in real terms missed its targets two months in a row, July and August 2017.
And when you look at the situation with our young people, the picture is quite grim and explains why our earning power as a nation is deteriorating. Young people cannot earn an income if they are not employed, but not only are millions of them unable to find jobs, but so many who had jobs are being laid off by companies that are downsizing to survive President Mutharika’s business-killing economy, such as construction companies that have stopped hiring in the wake of a severe cement shortage on the market.
Mr. Speaker Sir, the one silver lining in the midst of the misery of living in Mutharika’s economy is that he has taken a page out of late President Kamuzu Banda’s playbook of reserving enough grain stocks to stave off hunger. But 23 years after the dawn of democracy and 20 years after Kamuzu Banda, it is a shame that we are still led by people who cannot move our people’s prosperity beyond the ability to be fed by the Government.
Mr. Speaker Sir, truth be told, were it not for the gallant efforts of the Agriculture Committee of this House, under the able leadership of Hon. Member of Nsanje South West, to fight against concerted and executive attempts to corrupt the process of purchasing maize, the situation would have been much worse even on the food security front. But even with these embers of light in the dark, the fact remains that our people are living in misery, and it is sad and baffling that the President failed to admit or address it.
Mr. Speaker Sir, the second brutal fact that the President and his Cabinet refuse to admit or address is that he has neither done for Malawians what he said he would not what he claims he has. In the first place, his Government promised that the Electoral Reforms Bills that Malawians are demanding would be tabled during this sitting of Parliament, but to the dismay of all Malawians, the President did not even bother to explain why this promise is being tossed onto their mountainous pile of broken promises. Even though many hours and resources have already been invested by so many stakeholders in the electoral reforms process, the President did not even mention the bills.
Mr. Speaker Sir, the only reason why Lilongwe South has resuscitated the Private Member’s Bill on Electoral Reforms is because, even from the President’s speech, it is clear that you cannot trust this elusive and slippery government to do what it says. And I want to state in no uncertain terms that because the Electoral Reforms Bills are the will of the people, Government’s commitment to table them in this sitting of Parliament as promised is non-negotiable, failing which we will have no choice but to boycott proceedings as the people we represent have directed us to.
Mr. Speaker Sir, to see more evidence of the fact that this President has not done what he said he would or what he says he has, one needs to look no farther than his own manifesto launched on…