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  • Christine Chumbler
    Gov t Expenditure Threatens The Fight Against Poverty UN Integrated Regional Information Networks May 21, 2003 Posted to the web May 21, 2003 Lilongwe The
    Message 1 of 1046 , May 22, 2003
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      Gov't Expenditure Threatens "The Fight Against Poverty"

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      May 21, 2003
      Posted to the web May 21, 2003


      The government of Malawi is cash-strapped and running into a deficit of
      US $159.3 million from a projected $23.1 million. It also still caught
      up in "non-priority" spending areas, analysts say.

      Finance Minister Friday Jumbe declared last year that the theme for the
      budget was "Facing our realities and living within our means in the
      fight against poverty." Last week he asked parliament for additional
      funding of US $96 million to wrap up the fiscal year ending in June.

      "Realities have unfolded during the course of the year and it has
      proved difficult for government to go without considering the revision
      of the budget," Jumbe said, at the start of two weeks of parliamentary
      deliberations to consider his supplementary budget.

      The government has been heavily criticised for overspending. Recently
      President Bakili Muluzi appointed what analysts said was an
      "over-bloated" cabinet of 46 ministers - previously 39 - for a small
      donor-dependent economy. Cabinet ministers earn US $3,297 per month.

      Malawi recently experienced a food shortage crisis following drought
      and erratic rainfall, which forced government to spend an unplanned US
      $83.5 million on importing 250,000 mt of food.

      But over-expenditure was exacerbated by payment of ghost-workers'
      salaries, especially by the Ministry of Education, and non-disbursement
      of funds from aid partners.

      A bank interest rate of 40 percent in comparison to inflation at 14.8
      percent has also adversely affected domestic borrowing by government,
      Jumbe argued.

      Parliament passed a budget last year with total revenues and grants
      estimated at US $474.1 million. Of this amount, US $298.2 million would
      be generated by domestic resources, while US $175.9 million would come
      from foreign sources in the form of grants and HIPC (Highly Indebted
      Poor Countries) debt relief.

      "The current level of domestic debt stock is unsustainable and, if not
      reversed, would further destabilise the economy and undermine the
      implementation of the MPRSP [Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper],"
      Jumbe said, adding that this development meant government was breaking
      the law.

      Louis Chimango, a former finance minister and now of the main
      opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), cited state residences, the
      Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Intelligence Service, and the
      National Assembly itself as non-priority areas that had required
      additional funding.

      "We need to remind government, though, that they should be aware of the
      costs. Businesses are folding up. We're milking thin cows," Chimango

      Jan Jaap Sonke, an MP for the ruling United Democratic Party and a
      former deputy finance minister in Muluzi's government, said there were
      "uncleared clouds" over how US $83.5 million for food imports was
      accounted for.

      "The Finance Act limits domestic borrowing up to 20 percent of revenue.
      We have exceeded that many times - we're breaking the law," Sonke told

      The International Monetary Fund is withholding US $47 million in aid
      due to reported excessive expenditures.


      Malawians Abuse Their Soft Visa Status in UK

      African Eye News Service (Nelspruit)

      May 21, 2003
      Posted to the web May 21, 2003

      Hobbs Gama

      Immigration and security authorities in the United Kingdom are turning
      back scores of Malawi nationals for breaching entry regulations.

      Malawians are preferentially permitted with softer visa status because
      Malawi is a former colony that was governed by Britain for 70 years.

      Some Malawians are abusing the system, however, by pretending they're
      students, but then seeking employment.

      Tom Nevin, political and press public relations officer at the British
      High Commission in the Malawi capital of Lilongwe, assured that
      Malawians who complied with the regulations had no reason to worry.

      "Regardless of whether an entrant needs a visa to the UK or not they
      should have to satisfy immigration officers that they are entering
      legitimately," said Nevin.

      He warned that London might be prompted to review its visa provisions
      for Malawian visitors if cases of abusing visa privilege continued.

      Malawi is one of the poorest states in the world with 65 percent of its
      10 million population living below the poverty line.

      Rising unemployment, frequent closure of companies because of the
      collapse of the manufacturing sector and an uncertain political
      environment is forcing young university graduates to leave the country
      en masse.

      Even the employed are emigrating because of low irregular wages, poor
      working conditions and unfavourable labour laws.

      The recent increase in illegal immigrants fleeing political oppression,
      soaring unemployment and declining living conditions in Africa has
      prompted the British government to become tougher with foreigners.

      The number of asylum seakers from another former British colony,
      Zimbabwe, is said to have risen tenfold since 1998 due to prolonged
      political and economic uncertainty under president Robert Mugabe's
      leadership. - ECN-African Eye News Service


      Africa's top school survives the lean times
      May 9, 2003
      By: Rory Carroll

      Deep in the Malawi bush where lions and hyenas roam, it is easy to
      imagine what the ruins would look like: the clocktower toppled, the
      Romanesque arches crumbled, the wrought-iron gates bent and rusted, the
      artificial lake a malarial swamp, the entire 1 380-acre site a deserted,
      soundless rubble. Fitting tribute to a megalomaniac's folly.
      They named him after a little root, but Hastings Kamuzu Banda grew to
      become the Ngwazi ― the conqueror and chief of chiefs. He was a
      conventional enough dictator who looted the treasury and jailed (or
      worse) his opponents.
      But he had a unique dream: to give the smartest, most gifted children a
      classical education worthy of Plato. Kamuzu Academy was to last for
      This was almost a fairytale, replete with cricket, blazers and chips.
      The founder could take funds from his personal piggy bank ― the State
      ― and silence critics with a very real threat: "Food for the
      Reality crashed through the crested gates in 1994 when the president
      was ousted from power. No more Banda, no more money and, inevitably it
      seemed, no more academy. Teachers and pupils left in droves, the
      electricity was cut off, paintwork flaked. Oblivion beckoned.
      But Kazumu has confounded those who expected the jungle to swallow it.
      Tramping over the smooth lawns recently, a procession of several hundred
      pupils, teachers, parents and dignitaries carried flags to the
      auditorium and made speeches honouring the late dictator, his dream
      still very much alive as they celebrated the 21st anniversary of the
      academy's foundation.
      Often described as "the Eton in the bush" in deference to the top
      British school, Kamuzu is now a private, profit-making, fee-paying
      school where British staff teach United Kingdom high-school level Latin
      and Greek to the children of Malawi's rich. "There was a real risk
      we would close, but we are past the danger. It's getting easier year
      by year and I can say now that the academy is here to stay,'' says
      Frank Cooke, the headteacher.
      But from its inception, controversy has dogged the school, and the
      question remains: is this a beacon of excellence to nurture one of
      Africa's poorest countries or an unfunny, wasteful parody of
      Some 150kms north of the capital, Lilongwe, in Malawi's central
      region, the academy was built in the shadow of the kachere tree under
      which Scottish missionaries taught the young Banda to read and write at
      the beginning of the 20th century. Surrounding villages teemed with
      malnourished children too poor to go to school but when Kamuzu opened in
      November 1981, its 300 pupils had most of the education budget ―
      -million ― for, among other things, uniforms, dormitories, an
      Olympic-sized swimming pool, piano lessons, a golf course and a library
      modelled on Washington's Library of Congress.
      Presidents Robert Mugabe and Kenneth Kaunda heaped praise upon it,
      Ronald Reagan donated an inscribed dictionary, the BBC made a
      documentary and the headteacher of Eton was so impressed that he said
      Eton should be henceforth known as the Kamuzu of England.
      Cooke (51), appointed as a history teacher in 1982 and the head since
      1997, reels off the statistics: 390 pupils aged 11 to 19, girls a small
      majority; 38 teachers, of whom 20 are from Britain, 17 from Malawi and
      one from New Zealand; an additional staff of 450 to manage the
      facilities and crops of maize and tobacco. A board of six Malawian
      trustees administers the academy, which charges annual fees of 500 per
      pupil, per year.
      "We used to be free but when Dr Banda died we lost 100% of our
      income,'' says Cooke. Half of the pupils and a third of the teachers
      left and those teachers who stayed took a 20% pay cut. "It was a
      traumatic few years but we rebuilt from the bottom up with fee-payers
      and we are now economically viable.''
      Originally a working-class lad from Manchester, Cooke regrets that the
      founder's vision of free access for the brightest did not last but, he
      says, standards remain high ― 95% passed the United Kingdom high
      school level exam. "We'd be a good grammar school in Britain.''
      Banda, a diminutive medical doctor with a taste for Homburg hats who
      trained and practised in Britain, was a raging Anglophile yet led the
      overthrow of British rule in his homeland, one of many paradoxes. His
      autocratic rule spared Malawi war and economic upheaval but poverty
      deepened and his political opponents tended to disappear or die in
      "car crashes". Cooke weighs his words. "He was an enlightened
      despot ― an extraordinary leader with vision. He could have bought two
      MiG fighters but instead built the school.''
      Was Malawi not systematically mismanaged? A pause. "No, not entirely.
      It is right that the academy honours Dr Banda's memory and remains as
      his memorial to the nation.''
      The original ban on Malawi teachers has been lifted but the syllabus is
      largely unchanged: Latin and Greek compulsory up to 15-17 years but no
      modern languages, not even Chichewa, Malawi's native language, and
      little African history or literature.
      After a frosty start, relations with the founder's democratically
      elected successor, Bakili Muluzi, have thawed. He attended founder's
      day in 2001 and his portrait gazes from walls. The academy is no longer
      funded in any way by the education budget but the state-owned Press
      Trust recently donated 0 000.
      By late afternoon classes and sports are over and pupils drift into
      their dorms, the boys' walls adorned with posters of Porsches,
      Jennifer Lopez and Heineken. Most seem to be the children of government
      officials and executives. Politics is not popular. "You try to be
      careful because some elements of dictatorship are still there. There are
      children of politicians here. You could say something and next thing you
      know, your dad is fired,'' says Walter Miseleni, 18, the headboy.
      After studying engineering in Britain ― Cambridge University, he hopes
      ― Miseleni wants to return and develop Malawi's minerals. The
      headgirl, Thembi Katangwe (19), wants to study medicine in Britain and
      return as a paediatrician to fight HIV/Aids.
      The headboy and headgirl adore the academy but criticise the new
      intakes of youngsters. Rich and not always bright, says Walter, they
      risk becoming an arrogant and spoiled island within their own country,
      despite the fact that they do regular charity work in poor villages.
      He predicts that exam results will soon plunge because the entrance
      exam had been made easier, to facilitate fee-payers. Teachers disagree.
      Andrew Wild, who is head of science, says his classes of 13 to 20 pupils
      are highly motivated. Alex Collins (26), the newly arrived head of
      physical education, beams through his sunburn. "Fantastic. I'm head
      of a department and the kids are brilliant, they give you respect.
      Unlike my last school in south London, where I put a lot in and got
      nothing back."
      The one problem for staff is the lack of social life. On site seven
      days a week, there is little to do but read, watch films on satellite
      television and chat to colleagues in the bar. "Please write that a
      young, female teacher is needed,'' Collins grins. Most staff seem
      content, but they lament their low salaries ― less than 000 ― and
      the unreliable phone and Internet connections.
      It would have been senseless to let Banda's dream, folly or not,
      moulder into ruins. Many pupils and their parents' money would simply
      have gone to expensive schools abroad. Thanks to Kamuzu, they stay at
      home, realising a tyrant's vision of nurturing a breed apart. ― ©
      Guardian Newspapers 2003
    • 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.


        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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