- Malawi: Late Rains Drive Up Maize Prices
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
January 9, 2004
Posted to the web January 9, 2004
The price of maize in Malawi has begun to creep up at an alarming rate as "chizimalupsya" or pre-season rains have yet to hit the country.
A monthly Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) report said the delay in the onset of the rains had slowed down planting in several regions of Malawi.
"The annual inflation rate had continued to increase slightly for the fourth month in a row," said the FEWS NET report. Annualised inflation rose to 9.5 percent in October 2003, up from 9.2 percent the month before.
"The inflation rate is heavily influenced by food prices that are now rising as the number of households running out of food from their own production increases," said the report.
National coordinator of the Malawi Economic Justice Network, Collins Magalasi, said the delay in the planting rains had caused concern. According to Magalasi, the price of a 50 kg bag of maize had jumped to $10.68 during the last month.
In September last year FEWS NET recorded prices of $8.34 in Ntaja market in the Machinga district, which lies in the southern region - the worst affected by the late rains.
During its field trip to the region, FEWS NET found that "maize was selling fast at the nearby Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) market, whenever maize was available. At the time of FEWS NET's visit, the market had run out of maize. The high maize price at this local market therefore could be attributed to high demand for maize, due to a significant drop in maize production in the area."
Dry spells in the Karonga district in the northern region had also affected crop production and FEWS NET reported that many residents were dependent on maize purchases for food.
Meanwhile the sales of government-imported maize had begun to increase as the lean period progressed. "By the end of October, sales of government maize amounted to 156,455 mt, up by 29 percent from 121,364 mt at the end of September 2003," the report observed.
FEWS NET noted that all commercial maize stocks would be sold by the end of this season and the government could be forced to release stocks from the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) to meet demand. The Malawian government planned to boost its SGR from 73,706 mt to 100,000 mt.
Zambia's chief prosecutor defiant
Zambia's top prosecutor has refused to step down from his job as demanded by President Levy Mwanawasa.
The row first erupted following a shaky start to the corruption trial of former head of state Frederick Chiluba.
Last week, the president said Mukelebai Mukelebai would be on forced leave for a year before retiring from his job.
But breaking his silence, through his lawyers, the director of public prosecutions says he is appalled at attempts to "hound him out of office".
According to the BBC's Penny Dale in Lusaka, Mr Mwanawasa told reporters that the allegations that the corruption trial of former president Chiluba were deliberately mishandled were so serious that the DPP had to go.
The allegations surrounded a meeting with Mr chiluba's former intelligence chief, who is also on trial for alleged corruption.
CHILUBA'S RISE AND FALL
Former bus conductor
1991: Elected president
2001: Stood down
2003: Charged with 168 counts of theft
Zambia's 'matrix of plunder'
But the DPP - backed by the Law Association of Zambia - argues that as the people's lawyer the president has no legal right to get rid of him on the basis of anonymous tip-offs.
They point out that under the constitution the president must first appoint an independent tribunal to investigate the claims of corruption and incompetence.
Mr Mukelebai says he is confident that such a tribunal will clear his name and denies ever meeting the former intelligence chief or conspiring to scupper the trial.
Zimbabwe banks running out money
Zimbabwe's banks are in crisis, as the central bank struggles to curb rampant speculation in shares and property.
Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) rules have sent interest rates soaring, choking off the flow of borrowed money into the markets.
This has left many borrowers unable to pay their debts, hitting the fragile balance sheets of domestic lenders.
Now, one-third of banks are reportedly unable to honour cheques, and six banks are suspended from daily clearing.
To stave off the threat of a wholesale loss of confidence among depositors and investors, with catastrophic results for the wider economy, analysts now say the RBZ may have to back down.
The current crisis results from attempts by new RBZ governor Gideon Gono - who took office last month - to close a loophole in interest-rate policy.
Although inflation reached a high of 620% in November, legal restrictions have kept interest rates at or below 100%.
This resulted in a negative real interest rates of 500% and above, making it hugely favourable to borrow money and invest it in any asset - most favourably property and shares, but also everything from cars to whisky.
In order to calm down this speculative bubble, Mr Gono has allowed banks to charge higher rates, with some now charging 500% and above.
But this in turn has left many debtors unable to service their obligations, and banks with gaping holes in their balance sheets.
The resulting liquidity crunch has produced a surge in the Zimbabwean dollar, as banks dumped their holdings of foreign currency in order to meet their local obligations.
In the past three weeks, the Zimbabwean dollar has risen on the black market from 7,000 to the US dollar to about 4,500.
Mr Gono has this week launched an auction system for legitimate official foreign exchange trading, which he hopes will help bring the official rate more into line with the black market.
Restrictions on participation will probably prevent the official auctions from providing a true valuation of the Zimbabwean dollar, although analysts expect the rate to fall from its current fix of 824 in the US dollar to below 3,000.
Postponing the inevitable?
Ultimately, says David Cowan of the Economist Intelligence Unit, Mr Gono may have to reverse his interest-rate policy in order to stave off a full-fledged run on Zimbabwe's banks.
At best, this may reinstate the speculative bubble that was in place before Mr Gono's arrival.
"But it's the first crack in the wall," says Mr Cowan.
If property or share prices fail to reignite despite a new lowering of interest rates, the effects could be very widely spread.
Negative real interest rates leave banks unable to attract sufficient levels of deposits, meaning that they will at some point run out of money to lend unless something significant changes.
And with Zimbabwe currently being suspended from the International Monetary Fund, there is no prospect of money coming in from outside to prop up the system.
Zim ruling-party MP in fraud probe
12 January 2004 12:19
An outspoken Zimbabwean businessman and senior ruling-party lawmaker, Phillip Chiyangwa, arrested at the weekend for obstructing the course of justice in a fraud probe, is due to appear in court on Monday, police said.
Chiyangwa, chairperson of the ruling Zanu-PF party in Mashonaland West province, was arrested during investigations into the ENG Capital asset management company.
Two of the company's directors are accused of defrauding clients of more than Z$61-billion ($77-million), and were arrested last week.
Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena said Chiyangwa was "likely to appear in court today [Monday], but if he fails he will appear tomorrow".
Bvudzijena said investigating officers had found new evidence and were sifting through it before the flamboyant legislator would be taken to court.
A High Court issued an order for his release from custody on Sunday, but the police ignored the order.
"There is new evidence and we are still looking into it," said Bvudzijena.
Charges against Chiyangwa arose from his alleged protection of the ENG directors during police investigations and threats he issued to a police officer.
ENG Capital Asset Management owned Century Discount House, which was shut down and had its banking licence cancelled by the central bank after failing to pay funds owed to investors. -- Sapa-AFP
Zimbabwe reporters face charges
Mugabe chartered an Air Zimbabwe plane while in the Far East
Three Zimbabwean journalists are due in court on Monday, after being charged with insulting Robert Mugabe.
The editor and two reporters from the Zimbabwe Independent are spending the weekend in jail, and face two years imprisonment if convicted.
The newspaper alleged that President Mugabe commandeered an Air Zimbabwe plane, leaving passengers stranded.
Information Minister Jonathan Moyo described the report as "blasphemous".
He admitted Mr Mugabe had flown in the plane, but said he had not personally demanded its use.
The trio will face charges of criminal defamation, their lawyer said.
Newspapers have come under increasing pressure from the government, and have faced tighter controls and tougher penalties since the controversial 2002 election.
Zimbabwe Independent editor Iden Wetherell, news editor Vincent Kahiya and reporter Dumisani Muleya were detained on Saturday, after the weekly newspaper had published a story headlined "Mugabe grabs plane for Far East holiday".
The story alleges that the president telephoned the national carrier, Air Zimbabwe, and demanded a plane be sent to Malaysia and Indonesia for five days.
As a result, the newspaper said, the Boeing 767's scheduled flights between Harare and London had to be cancelled, stranding hundreds of passengers.
But Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said the report was a "deliberate falsehood calculated to bring the office of the president into disrepute".
President Mugabe had flown on scheduled flights via South Africa to Malaysia, from where he had chartered an Air Zimbabwe plane.
The airline issued a statement confirming that the president was using the plane, but said that it had not been scheduled to operate elsewhere, and its charter had therefore caused no disruption.
The journalists' lawyer said that the report was raising a matter of public interest.
"These are matters where public scrutiny is very important. That's the defence they are raising, that it is not criminal... to publish what is of public interest," said Linda Cook.
More than a dozen journalists have been arrested since a new media law came into effect after President Mugabe's re-election in March 2002.
However, the latest charges have been made under common law.
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
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
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.
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