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Malawi leader Lazarus Chakwera’s first SONA: Inspiring but lacks killer punch

President Lazarus Chakwera presenting State of the Nation Address at parliament

BLANTYRE-(MaraviPost)—Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera has on Friday presented his first State of National Address (SONA) before Members of Parliament in the national assembly after almost two months into the office.

Having taken over from former president Peter Mutharika, who was heavily criticized for dragging the nation into the mud of abject poverty and depth of despair by leaving the government coffers in the hands of crooks, people glued to radios and television expecting nothing but a speech loaded with people’s aspirations from the court sanctioned election winner.

As expected, Chakwera, who together with his vice president promised a myriad of development projects during campaign for the highest office, eloquently narrated what his administration has in store for the people of Malawi on short and long term basis.

In his bid to emphasize that Malawi is not poor, Chakwera, for the first time, has disclosed to the nation one secret: Malawi has gold.

“Surely, my country, with 85 million dollars in gold exported to the Middle East every year, is not poor. My country, with a freshwater lake and multiple rivers capable of generating 100 million dollars a year in revenue, is not poor. My country, with soils fertile enough to grow the food needed to end hunger for good, is not poor. My country, home to the coffee-scented hills of Misuku in Chitipa and the tea- covered plains of Satemwa in Thyolo, is not poor. My country, home to the silhouettes of zebras and elephants grazing against the backdrop of a golden sunset, is not poor,” Chakwera roared with much determination.

Well, that is what motivation speakers have been preaching for several years yet the motivators themselves wallow in poverty too. Nevertheless, identifying one’s potential is one step towards harnessing the much needed kinetic energy. However, the president could tell the nation how gold has been exported to the Middle East? Who have been benefiting from the precious mineral? And what strategies have they put in place to make sure the country starts ripping benefits from it? His failure to address these questions gives us a right to speculate that his government will also not be transparent and accountable on transactions of the said mineral or it was just an illusion of Mr. Sean Tsanzo Kampondeni, the speech weaver.

Moving to much touted 1 million jobs, the man of God exuded rays of hope. He sounded more concerned with the levels of unemployment in the country, especially among the youths.

“Madam Speaker, this round up of focus areas in education naturally brings me to the subject of employment, without which our pursuit of the economic aspects of Sustainable Development Goals would be rendered futile. It is no secret that Dr. Chilima and I promised to create one million jobs in our first year in office.

“To realize this, we have embarked on a job creation initiative and are treating the creation of a conducive environment for further job creation as an ongoing and multi- sectoral effort. We are currently consulting with and collecting data from key stakeholders for use in our ongoing assessment of the economy’s current employment situation. That way, the actionable job creation strategy we are developing is responsive to the evolving fundamentals of the job market. The strategy is a cocktail of the right policies, incentives, partnerships, and microfinance programs that will be applied strategically to produce the enabling environment for sustainable job creation and the productivity of marketable goods and services,” he said.

While I support whatever he said in relation to job creation, the president missed a golden opportunity to update the nation the following as regards to 1 million jobs if the youths are to take his promise seriously: 1. How many jobs will be created from the budget to be presented? 2. When will the graduate interns be integrated into the mainstream since some of them have been on internship for over 2 years now? Failure to address these issues has left many of youths doubting the practicality of 1 million jobs. You can’t talk of 1 million jobs yet few graduates have been on internship for over 2 years without giving them permanent job. 2 years on internship? It must be probation, I suppose.

On corruption Chakwera was spot-on: “Executive is too powerful, the Judiciary is too underfunded, the Legislature is too subservient, and all three are too corrupt.” The emphasis should on corruption because this is the more reason why pupils are still learning under trees; shortage of drugs in government hospitals while found in abundance on black market; Neno district still remains an Island due to axle-snapping roads; police officers still leave in very poor ‘houses’; Community Day Secondary Schools remain civic education centres for the children of the poor and so forth. As such, it would make much sense if the president outlined tangible strategies to do away with the evil practice. What strategy has been put in place to control resources in District Councils? Money for improving the welfare of Malawians is being abused in councils but no affirmative action has been taken to savage the situation. Don’t tell me you will send auditors; we are in this mess because of the so called auditors. They need to be audited, too.

It is very encouraging that the president is committed to reduce his powers, but the question is: where will the powers go? To citizens or individuals already appointed by him in the very same corrupt organizations? Malawians did away with the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party and its leader Peter Mutharika because they got tired of unfulfilled promises and mere talk. They can’t afford to be cheated and taken for granted again.

On education the president failed to recognize the hell teachers are going through. Quality education can only be achieved if Malawi has quality teachers too. For so long, teaching has been the last choice for secondary school graduates. What does the president have in store to make teaching profession more attractive? We can build nice schools but if the teachers are still subjected to poor working conditions, the results will remain the same. You construct a nice C.D.S.S in very remote area without teachers’ houses and you expect a graduate from Chilunga to get accommodation in shabby houses in surrounding villages.

Compulsory education is a welcome idea but we must not compromise quality. Memories of the aftermath of free primary education are still fresh and we are still paying the price of compromising quality of education. Free primary education led to unexpected congestion in schools thereby increasing the teacher-pupil ratio. Bakili Muluzi, ‘Anyamata apatown’, resorted to hiring Junior Certificate of Education (J.C.E) holders to groom our kids. So as the president is embarking on this very similar journey of making primary education compulsory (very important idea of course) he must come very clear on how he intends to make teaching profession more attractive so that we should have dedicated and quality teachers.

On infrastructure, the president was supposed to be clear on which and how many roads will be constructed; which areas have been earmarked for the Malawi Rural Electrification Programme (MAREP) and how the programmed has been progressing; the progress of the 250 secondary schools funded by our donors. Conversely, the president must applauded for showing commitment to resume the 350MW Mpatamanga Hydro Project, an initiative of the former president Peter Mutharika. It is unusual for incumbent to proceed with predecessor’s projects in Malawi.

“Madam Speaker, Malawi needs to start moving towards industrializing itself for it to become a middle-income country by 2063. Industry conveys a lot of spillovers including providing links to other sectors of the economy such as agriculture. My Administration will emphasize manufacturing as a base for transformation and creation of employment,” the president said tackling the issue of industrialization.

But why should the president, who looks more determined to develop the country, gather confidence to inform its citizens he wants Malawi to become a middle-income country by 2063? 43 years from now? No! That’s not the wish of Malawians. We need Malawi to become middle-income country not today or tomorrow but yesterday.

All in all, the president appears to have the welfare and wish of Malawians at heart. If he surrounds himself with necessary human resource Malawi can be a better place for all. Since Malawi Congress Party (MCP) stayed outside the government for almost 26 years, it is very imperative for the president to ask for advice on governance beyond the MCP fold. Many of MCP to officials are not that much smart in the art of governance. Yes, running the country requires much exposure and as a country we have such people in abundance and they are apolitical. The president can utilize them to his advantage as he is slowly learning the art of governance.

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