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  • Christine Chumbler
    Chikaoda s Sacking Criticised Daily Times (Blantyre) January 10, 2002 Posted to the web January 11, 2002 Mabvuto Banda Blantyre OPPOSITION parties have
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jan 11, 2002
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      Chikaoda's Sacking Criticised

      Daily Times (Blantyre)
      January 10, 2002
      Posted to the web January 11, 2002
      Mabvuto Banda
      Blantyre
      OPPOSITION parties have criticised the sacking of Mathews Chikaonda as finance minister and described Friday Jumbe's appointment as a mistake.
      The International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, has welcomed Jumbe, saying his background will be vital to understanding the country's economic problems.
      IMF resident rep Thomas Gibson said yesterday: "I have known Mr. Jumbe for the past four years and benefited from conversations with him at Admarc. He has a business background which should equip him well to understand the problems faced by the economy, particularly those caused by government crowding out the private sector and attendant high inflation, high interest rates and a volatile exchange rate."
      But the Alliance for Democracy (Aford) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) wondered why President Bakili Muluzi dropped Chikaonda for Jumbe, whom they accused of presiding over Admarc's collapse.
      "There is no way [someone of] Jumbe's calibre can rescue the national economy if Chikoanda failed," MCP treasurer general Heatherwick Ntaba said.
      Ntaba acknowledged Muluzi's powers to hire and fire his ministers, but questioned the motive behind Chikaonda's removal.
      Aford's Dan Msowoya said Jumbe will have much difficulty running the country's economy because it is in dire-straits.
      Msowoya said Chikaonda had certain attributes that Muluzi should have retained and supported.
      "But the problem was that cabinet had no capacity to support him and he turned out to be a loner," he said.
      Chikaonda was sacked on Wednesday together with deputy agriculture minister Mekki Mtewa and deputy deputy transport minister Iqbal Omar in Muluzi's first cabinet shake-up since December, 2000.
      As Jumbe takes over Chikaonda's job, he must control public spending, kick-start the private sector into profits and complete negotiations with Western donors to resume disbursing pledge aid.


      *****

      K13 Million Wasted On Mercs

      Daily Times (Blantyre)
      January 10, 2002
      Posted to the web January 11, 2002
      Mabvuto Banda
      Blantyre
      GOVERNMENT is considering taking back for ministerial use the 33 controversial Mercedes benz saloons which it was forced to put on sale two years ago after the British Government questioned the purchase of the luxury cars.
      The government, however, is worried about the cost of maintaining its aging fleet of ministerial cars--about K13 million a year.
      Sources told Daily Times government spends about K400,000 annually to service one Merc, which adds up to K13 million for the whole fleet.
      The acting general manager of Automotive Products Limited (APL), Maclean Simwaka, confirmed yesterday that government spends that much money on repairs and servicing the old fleet.
      Simwaka advised government to save millions by replacing the fleet with the one parked at his yard.
      "Let us be realistic, the £1.7 million spent on the 34 Mercs is a sank cost. The difference in the exchange rate, the change of models, depreciation and the amount of money government is now spending on servicing and repairing the old fleet is more costly than the amount we spent buying the controversial Mercs," Simwaka said.
      The British Government criticised Malawi Government for buying the Mercs, accusing it of using donor money and forced it to sell them to recover the money.
      They have been lying at APL for two years now.
      But Simwaka said that government can no longer sell the cars now because the market for such cars is small and new models have become slightly cheaper than old ones.
      "Right now we have a new C-Class Mercedes Benz going at K3.2 million. Now look at the C-Class among the controversial fleet, no one can buy it because it is expensive due to the exchange rate and age," he said.
      Minister of Information Clement Stambuli confirmed that government has spent millions on servicing its fleet for ministers.
      "We spend around K400,000 to service a minister's car. So for 33 of them it is over K13 million," Stambuli said, adding that government will have to decide what to do with the Mercs at APL.
      Twenty-two of the Mercs have already been released from the APL yard for the extraordinary Sadc summit at a cost of K234,000.
      "Because they are still here, when we were asked to release them for the summit, we had to service them, change batteries, ignitions, wheel rims which become rusty and the cost came up to K234,000," Simwaka said.
      When government bought the 34 Mercs the exchange rate was at K80 to one US dollar.


      *****

      Imports Ban: Zimbabwe Takes Offence

      Daily Times (Blantyre)
      January 10, 2002
      Posted to the web January 11, 2002
      Tomas Chafuynya
      Blantyre
      SENIOR officials from Zimtrade, Zimbabwe's export promotion body and Zimbabwe Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ZCCI) said this week the bodies backed by Zimbabwe Ministry of Trade and Industry will lodge a complaint to Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) secretariat on the recent stand Malawi's authorities took to ban exports.
      Malawi government had gone on a suspension and banning spree of all milk products and put stern measures to control the imports of poutry products such as fertilised eggs, table eggs, dressed chickens and day old chicks.
      A senior Zimtrade source told Business Times this week from Zimbabwe capital, Harare the trade body had submitted their grievances to their government which resulted to a spate of meetings with Malawi officials over the suspensions.
      "Our government has expressed the same concerns as we have, regarding the decisions Malawi authorities have undertaken. It should be made clear once and for all that the Malawian authorities have violated the free trade agreement under Comesa and the decision may backfire because what is happening is not dumping but normal market penetration," the source said.
      The official said a high powered committee has been set up after the local producers mainly in the agricultural sector complained to Zimtrade that Malawi, one of their biggest markets has been closed.
      "Our Malawi counterparts said the suspension was not targetted at a particular country, but you will be suprised that because of the trade imbalance which has been there between Zimbabwe and Malawi in favour of us, the decision was reached in particular for Zimbabwe," the source said.
      Another source at ZCCI said Malawi had shot herself in the foot by opening its market ajar in early 1990s without proper protection to its local industry, a development that made other countries to put Malawi high on the table of their market penetration prospects.
      On the recent ban decision, Malawi should expect the same treatment on other products it exports to regional countries such as Zimbabwe and South Africa, the source said.
      "Malawi must have thought twice over the decision before implementing it. The country must focus how the authorities struggled for instance, to get South Africans to open up again its market for Malawi's textiles when it closed few years ago," the source said.
      Geoff Mkandawire, Director of Commerce told Business Times the decision was hard to be reached ats but did not target any paritcular country.
      "When you are in problems you do not wait for long, you find measures to survive first," he said.
      Mkandawire said Malawi had find herself in the situation that the manufacturing industry was on the verge of total collapse.
      He said the suspensions and tight restrictions of imports were also applied to other major exporters to Malawi such as South Africa and Britain.


      *****

      IMF Queries Maize Levy on Fuel

      Daily Times (Blantyre)
      January 10, 2002
      Posted to the web January 11, 2002
      Thomas Chafunya
      Blantyre
      The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has asked government to explain how it came to impose and collect the controversial maize levy on fuel.
      "The question is: Who authorised the maize levy? Why were the appropriate ministers by-passed? How much money is being collected? What is to be done with these monies?" queried IMF resident rep Thomas Gibson.
      He said normally such a levy would be sanctioned by the ministers of Finance, Natural Resources and Energy, but former Finance Minister Matthews Chikaonda denied its existence.
      Cabinet directed Petroleum Control Commission (PCC) last August to collect a levy on fuel to cater for relief maize imports for one year at K365 million, according to documents leaked to Daily Times.
      Following the directive, PCC has levied K2 on each litre of petrol, K1 each on diesel and paraffin since September, 2001, accounting for K100 million to date.
      Gibson said despite the role of levies and taxes being the brainchild of a finance minister, the former minister denied to several heads of donor missions the levy existed.
      "The previous finance minister told the heads of donor missions that there is no such thing as a maize levy," said Gibson.
      The IMF rep said the Fund clearly recognised money was being collected, however, and channelled to the Stabilisation Fund.
      The issue of the maize levy was brought into the open by outspoken consumer activist John Kapito, executive director of Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama).
      Kapito, who also sits on the Petroleum Pricing Committee (PPC), said he was "protecting the interest of the consumers" when he leaked the information from a committee he sits on.
      Richard Kamphale, general manager of Petroleum Importers Limited (PIL), the importing arm of the country's oil companies, told Daily Times yesterday the company was still collecting and keeping the money.
      He said government has not identified an account where PIL can deposit the money.
      Senior PPC officials have questioned the government's integrity in hiding the maize levy under the Price Stabilisation Fund (PSF) in the fuel price build up when releasing the information to the public.


      *****

      Rigging the changes?

      Claims of election fraud and the fact that Zambia’s new president has taken the
      defence post for himself have raised eyebrows

      GREGORY MTHEMBU-SALTER

      Patrick Levy Mwanawasa’s election as Zambia’s president on January 2 has,
      despite the polls’ multiple flaws, put the country at the cutting edge of Africa’s
      democratic development.

      With Mwanawasa’s election, which is soon to be challenged in the courts by
      disgruntled opposition party leaders, Zambia has become the third country in
      sub-Saharan Africa to have three consecutive, democratically elected heads of state
      since independence. The only other African countries to achieve this are Tanzania
      and Botswana. But where these countries have had just one party in control since
      independence, Mwanawasa’s Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) wrested
      power from Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party in 1991.

      Mwanawasa squeaked into Zambia’s State House with a majority of little more than
      1% over his closest rival, Anderson Mazoka of the United Party for National
      Development (UPND). The UPND and the other opposition parties claim the result
      was rigged. Mazoka has proclaimed himself Zambia’s true president.

      There appears to be ample evidence of vote-rigging in at least three provinces ― the
      Copperbelt, Luapula and Northern province.

      There is speculation in Lusaka that the MMD, alarmed by the extent of Mazoka’s
      victories in his stronghold of south and western Zambia and in Lusaka itself, delayed
      election results for several days to enable the rigging to be carried out.

      However, it will be difficult for opposition
      parties to prove in court that the election
      was sufficiently rigged to require a
      recount or a new ballot. In addition,
      precedent from a similar court challenge
      by Zambian opposition parties after the
      last presidential election in 1996, and
      indeed from the legal battle between
      Democrats and Republicans in the United
      States over George Bush’s election in
      2000, suggests the opposition’s court bid
      will fail.

      Results from Zambia’s parliamentary elections, held at the same time as the
      presidential poll, appear to have produced a hung Parliament, with the MMD just
      short of a simple majority. Opposition parties are certain to challenge some
      constituency results in the courts, and at least some of these will be successful,
      which will further erode the MMD’s parliamentary position.

      Mwanawasa’s offer of government positions to smaller opposition parties will
      probably tempt enough of them to give the new government’s legislation a fighting
      chance in Parliament, but Mwanawasa and his Cabinet will not have the easy ride in
      Parliament enjoyed by their predecessors.

      Although the elections took place over the Christmas period, in the middle of the
      rainy season when most farmers were planting their crops, about two-thirds of
      registered voters cast their ballots, confounding analysts who expected a low
      turnout.

      About 70% voted against the MMD in the presidential elections, suggesting their
      main motivation for voting was to achieve change. If that was the case, these voters
      will have been disappointed, but there is little indication so far that the public has any
      appetite for the civil resistance being advocated by some in the opposition.

      Mwanawasa’s new Cabinet, appointed on Monday, is consistent with his campaign
      slogan of *continuity with change*. Several of his predecessor Frederick Chiluba’s
      ministers have been retained. The Minister of Finance, Emmanuel Kasonde, returns
      to the post he held under Chiluba in the early 1990s, when Mwanawasa was
      vice-president.

      Chiluba’s Information Minister Vernon Mwaanga has kept his job despite an earlier
      conviction for Mandrax smuggling. Mwanawasa, despite being involved in a land
      scam in 1993, is judged to be relatively clean, which is perhaps the main reason
      Chiluba selected him as his successor.

      Mwanawasa has said that agriculture will be his administration’s main priority and
      has brought the agriculture portfolio into the presidency. Political mismanagement
      since independence has prevented the sector from achieving its potential.

      The new president has also taken the defence post for himself, which has raised
      eyebrows in diplomatic circles.

      Mwanawasa was badly injured in a head-on-collision in 1991, which left him with
      difficulties concentrating for long periods and poor speech. This led to frequent
      allegations during the election campaign by the opposition that he is a *cabbage*.
      Mwanawasa has demonstrated in recent days that this is certainly not the case, but
      his long-term intentions in power remain unclear.

      Mwanawasa insisted on the campaign trail that *Zambia was not for sale*, which may
      signal a slowing of the privatisation programme, and perhaps more protectionist trade
      policies. Both could affect South African interests, though in reality Zambia is so
      indebted to multilateral institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary
      Fund that its government’s scope for economic policy change is limited.
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006
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        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17

        The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.

        China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.

        Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.

        The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.

        "They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.

        The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.

        But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.

        The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.

        This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.

        Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.

        According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.

        President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.

        The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.

        Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.

        The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.

        The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.

        *****

        Chihana operated on

        by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31

        Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.

        Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.

        Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.

        Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.

        "Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.

        Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.

        Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.

        "The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.

        He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

        Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.

        *****

        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

        by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13

        A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.

        Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.

        "My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."

        But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.

        "I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.

        MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.

        MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."

        MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.

        "If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.

        The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.

        "It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.

        On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.

        Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.

        "There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.

        But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.

        "One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.

        The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

        The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.

        *****

        Mussa hails new driving licence

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52

        Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.

        Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.

        The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.

        "With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.

        Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.

        Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.

        Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.

        *****

        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

        by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46

        The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.

        UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.

        "Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.

        Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.

        "We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.

        But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).

        "They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.

        Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.

        "They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.

        Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.

        *****

        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu

         

        MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.

        The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.

        Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.

        A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.

        Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.

        "A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.

        "The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.

        The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.

        He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.

        "Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.

        Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.

        Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.

        Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.

        They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.

        According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.

        Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

        The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.

         

        *****

        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

        Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.

        The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.

        Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.

        "I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.

        Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.

        Opposition protests

        Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.

        A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.

        Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.

        Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.

        "This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.

        He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."

        Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.

        Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.

        Crackdown

        In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.

        The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.

        However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.

        Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.

        Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.

        The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.

        Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.

        The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.

        But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.

        The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.

        Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline

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