- Politics-Malawi: Mutharika's Daunting Task
Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)
May 28, 2004
Posted to the web May 28, 2004
As Malawi's courts grapple with the electoral challenge lodged by the opposition Mgwirizano coalition to last week's poll, the country's new president, Bingu wa Mutharika, is trying to win hearts and minds with talk of poverty alleviation and corruption busting.
A damning report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed last year that the living standards of Malawians had failed to improve during 10 years of rule by the United Democratic Front (UDF) - Mutharika's party. Prior to 1994, the Southern African country was led by dictator Kamuzu Hastings Banda.
At his swearing in ceremony Monday (May 24), the head of state put the best possible spin on the UNDP's findings by telling visiting dignatories and party loyalists that "Malawi is not a poor country, and I repeat that Malawi is not a poor country. It is the people of Malawi who are poor."
He also laid out a list of proposals to undo this paradox that included a slimmed down cabinet, expedited prosecution of corrupt officials, agricultural reforms to address widespread hunger - and a cut in the price of anti-retroviral drugs from its current level of about 25 dollars a month. (This is the equivalent of a month's wages for a civil servant. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Malawi currently has an HIV prevalence rate of 15 percent, "the eighth-highest globally".)
Mutharika's 'can do' approach was overshadowed by a number of developments that combined to make his first week in office a rocky one, however.
Just a day after his swearing in ceremony, the Mgwirizano coalition - which groups seven parties - went to court to demand a re-run of last week's general election, citing massive irregularities at the polls. The group's leader, Gwanda Chakuamba, came third in the presidential race, after Mutharika and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) leader John Tembo.
Local and international election observers have also expressed concern about the conduct of the elections - and disputed claims by outgoing President Bakili Muluzi on Monday that the election was free and fair.
"In no place in our preliminary statement did we use either the word free or the word fair," said the head of the European Union's (EU) observer delegation, Marieke Sanders-ten Holte.
In a statement released Tuesday, the EU highlighted concerns surrounding the legitimacy of the counting process, saying "We now urge the Malawi electoral commission to rapidly publish detailed results down to the polling station level."
Denis Kadima, Executive Director of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA) - which also sent a team to Malawi, told IPS in Johannesburg that "Many people did not find their names on the voters' roll.We felt that many people were disenfranchised."
For its part, the Commonwealth Observer Group noted in a statement Monday, "The conclusion we've reached is that voters were free to express their wishes on election day, but because of problems with the register, the bias of state media and abuse of incumbency, the process prior to election day was unfair."
The confusion surrounding the poll has caused tensions to boil over in various parts of the country during the past week, with up to four demonstrators killed in clashes with security forces. Business premises in the economic hub of Blantyre were also looted.
However, EISA's Kadima said this scenario might have been avoided if the opposition had approached the election differently.
"They didn't learn from the lessons in Kenya where the opposition united in their ranks (in Dec. 2002) against the ruling party. The Malawi opposition could have, between them, garnered over 1.6 million of the votes," he said.
Anthony Mukumbwa, managing consultant for the Corporate Governance Centre, an independent governance training firm in Blantyre, told IPS that the debacle could also cause donors to look askance at future requests for aid by Malawi.
Mutharika's ability to run the country will further be hampered by the fact that the UDF did not win a parliamentary majority in the May 20 poll. Instead, the MCP, Mgwirizano and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) announced Thursday that they would combine forces to become the largest voting bloc in the 193-seat parliament. Between them, the three groups hold 92 seats.
The UDF and its junior partner, the Alliance for Democracy, have 55 seats between them, while a number of independent candidates have also made it to parliament. The fact that many of these candidates were originally from the UDF may yet count in its favour, however. By-elections for six remaining seats also have to be held within the next two months.
"Mutharika has been elected by a minority and this raises questions about the legitimacy of his mandate," Boniface Dulani, a political scientist at Chancellor College, a branch of the University of Malawi, told IPS. The MCP, Mgwirizano and NDA have indicated that they will not join the new cabinet.
In amidst this horse-trading, observers have adopted a 'wait-and-see' stance about the president's reformist aspirations - not least because Mutharika went on record during the campaign to say that he would protect Muluzi from possible prosecution for alleged abuses of his position.
Ben Kalua, an eminent economist, says much will hinge on whether Mutharika removes the consent which the office of the Director of Public Prosecution is obliged to give Malawi's Anti-Corruption Bureau before it can take officials who are engaged in graft to task. "This is his acid test," Kalua told IPS.
Last year, cabinet rejected proposals by the Malawi Law Commission for this consent to be removed in the interests of speeding up investigations.
Government estimates that it loses more than nine million dollars every year because of bureaucratic delays in prosecuting corruption suspects.
Malawi: Efforts to Reduce School Absenteeism Pay Off
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
May 31, 2004
Posted to the web May 31, 2004
An anti-child labour body's efforts to renovate schools and increase access to water has helped reduce school absenteeism among communities in Malawi's Central region.
"We have recorded a 22.1 percent increase in school enrollment in the 100 villages that we work in, and a 36 percent decline in absenteeism," Bobby Maynard, coordinator of the initiative for the NGO, Together Ensuring Children's Security (TECS), told IRIN. The organisation, based in the capital, Lilongwe, has been working in the tobacco-growing region for the past two years.
The TECS efforts are partly financed by the Geneva-based Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco-growing (ECLT), which is funded by tobacco multinationals.
Malawian children often quit school and work on tobacco farms to supplement family income, in spite of laws prohibiting children younger than 13 from working full time.
"Girls have to walk two or three kilometres to the closest water point. We have been negotiating with the villages to install safe water points within the 500 metre radius of the settlement, so the girls have the time to go to school," explained Maynard.
Some of the issues TECS tackles are poverty, HIV/AIDS and a lack of educational facilities, all of which drive children away from schools.
Food insecurity in these poverty-stricken communities is another critical factor in inducing child labour. With the installation of more accessible water points, villages have been encouraged to grow fruit trees, like bananas, as a source of food.
Communities are also working together to repair schools. "Part of our campaign revolves around creating awareness about child labour - that children need to be educated," said Maynard.
Malawi's Bleeding Heart
Sunday Times (Johannesburg)
May 30, 2004
Posted to the web May 31, 2004
Disillusioned, the poor support an ex-Banda man
The view of Blantyre from the summit of the Ndirande Mountain is quite scenic.
Northeast of the mountain is a massive dam that acts as a boundary between the city centre and the small neighbouring town of Limbe. In the south are the rolling green hills that separate the Blantyre district from the tea-producing rural southeastern region.
On a sunny day, one can see as far as the massive Mulanje Mountain, 90km away.
Save for a few high-rise buildings, the Blantyre city centre seems covered in thick bush which gives it the appearance of an eco-friendly theme park rather than the buzzing economic hub of Malawi that it is.
From the Ndirande Mountain, the best-known city of this tiny land-locked Southern African country looks affluent and at peace with itself.
But descending the mountain, down the dusty nameless road that connects the Ndirande mountain to Ndirande the township, one is quickly reminded that Malawi is one of Africa's poorest countries, with well over half of its citizens living below the poverty line of 1 a day.
The only signs of development along this 4km road are at the foot of the mountain, where the Malaysian government built a low-cost housing complex and a high school as part of a donation made to Malawi a few years ago.
Below the complex, appropriately named Malaysia, a long line of dilapidated houses and shops flank the rocky road.
Poverty is so endemic here that fried locusts have become a daily diet for most families. Children comb the streets for them at night.
HIV/Aids, largely a by-product of the migrant labour system encouraged by the colonial rulers and the subsequent dictatorship of Kamuzu Banda, is on the rise.
Ndirande is the oldest residential area in Malawi, established by the colonial administrators in the late 1800s to accommodate the hundreds of African families who were forcibly removed from Blantyre.
Today, Ndirande is home to more than a million people and is known to those inhabitants who once worked as migrant labourers on South African mines as "the Soweto of Malawi".
Ndirande was one of the most hotly contested areas in the recent elections.
"If you lose Ndirande, you must know you have lost the elections. This is the heart of Malawi and its politics," says carpenter Elton Chirambe.
It was here that, at the height of Malawi's struggle for multi party democracy in the early 1990s, former President Bakili Muluzi's party, the United Democratic Front, enjoyed its most enthusiastic support. But 10 years after Muluzi was democratically elected to replace former dictator Banda, the UDF's support in the area is no longer as clear cut.
Widespread dissatisfaction with the Muluzi government's failure to deliver jobs and basic services has led to many people turning to the coalition of opposition parties led by a former high-ranking minister in Banda's Cabinet, Gwanda Chakuamba.
The yellow UDF flags that used to stand along the nameless road then have been replaced with green and white coalition flags. And during the election campaign, people walked around with maize stalks - the coalition's emblem - as a sign of their support for Chakuamba.
People are angry at Muluzi, accusing him of having ruined the economy by closing down loss-making, state-owned companies.
"When they came to power they promised us the world. But what we have seen is worse than what happened during Banda's time," says self-employed businessman Stanley Phiri. "Companies such as David Whitehead and Sons, which used to employ 9 000 local people, have now been closed. The government says it has no money to run some of these companies and so they sell them off, but we are never told where the money is going. It is a crime."
Phiri has run his own car servicing and panelbeating business since the company he worked for was closed down in the mid-1990s.
"I am one of the lucky few who is able to survive with the few skills I have.
"But even for us it is difficult because people cannot afford to repair and service their vehicles if they are unemployed," he says.
Some of the "crimes" the Muluzi government is accused of were prescribed to Malawi by the International Monetary Fund and international donor institutions which fund almost half of the Malawian state budget. These include the forced sale of strategic grain reserves that left the country without a buffer against famine when it was hit by floods in 2002.
The economic liberalisation, which has resulted in the closure of many companies, is also a policy prescribed by the powerful donors. The policy is not likely to change even under a new government as it too will have to depend on the donor community.
But many residents in Ndirande are not interested in economic debate.
" People want change now," explains Tim Mhone, a director of the local Freedom Foundation Private Secondary School.
The large number of "private schools" in Ndirane is striking. But these are not your usual upmarket sites of education - some do not even have window frames and pupils in different grades sometimes share classrooms.
Private schools have become a business option for the many teachers who are tired of working for up to three months without pay at government schools. Even if they do get their salaries on time, the 4 000 kwacha, about R400, they earn a month is just not enough to feed their families, they say. And so, many have set up their own schools.
Mhone, who qualified as a teacher only four years ago, is one of them. He is cagey about what he earns now but says each of his 150 pupils pay a school fee of 1 700 kwacha, about R170, a semester.
For this they get to learn in a crumbling, three-room building, a clinic in Banda's days.
"Parents and pupils do not mind the fact that we do not have enough classrooms. They know that, unlike in government schools where little education happens, we are serious about our business here. Last year, all 30 of our pupils who sat for the Malawi School Certificate of Edu cation [matric equivalent] passed," Mhone says.
He had hoped that Chakuamba, who subsequently came third in the presidential election, would bring an improvement to public education and the economy in general, bringing the promise of future jobs to those still at school.
It is ironic that a town that once consistently opposed Banda's one-party state embraced one of his trusted lieutenants as their saviour.
Not only was Chakuamba once commander-in-chief of the infamous Malawi Young Pioneers, a vigilante group used to terrorise Banda's opponents, but he was, as the then ageing Banda's defence minister, widely seen as heir to the throne in the 1990s.
People's frustration with the UDF government reflects a much deeper problem, one that exists in many of Africa's under-developed economies: multiparty democracy has done little more than remove power from one section of the elite to another, bringing little improvement to the lives of ordinary citizens.
Closed - No Medicines!
The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)
May 31, 2004
Posted to the web May 31, 2004
It has been a while since our team visited health institutions at community and district levels. As the 2004 General Elections approached and health became a hot political issue on the campaign trail, strengthening health delivery systems in the country became crucial to the incumbent government.
In July 2003, during the first round of investigations to target health centres and district hospitals, government started changing the public drug delivery system beginning with the Southern Region. As the country went to the polls, the drug distribution system nation-wide was given a new face. A year ago, as mentioned in our previous stories, health centres did not directly procure drugs from the Central Medical Stores (CMS) but from the district hospitals. Each district hospital ordered enough drugs for itself and all the health centres in its catchment area.
According to the new distribution scheme, the CMS is supposed to take drugs straight to health centres on a monthly basis in locked boxes bearing the name of the health centre, bypassing the district hospitals.
However, as explained in Part II of this story (The Chronicle * Vol. 11 * No. 469 *), this new distribution arrangement was initially meant to be just one aspect of a more comprehensive reform program. Under this program, drugs would be supplied to a particular health centre based on the prevalence of disease conditions in its catchment area and the number of people living there. This rational approach is termed 'drug quantification.' The first step was to quantify the needs of each health centre in a scientific manner.
Once the drug needs of a particular area are quantified, it becomes possible to automatically send drugs on a monthly basis to the health centre without having to wait for its requisition order.
This quantification exercise gave promising results in Machinga and Salima, where a pilot programme was launched a year and a half ago. Since the quantification of the needs nationwide could not be done overnight, it was expected that government would gradually scale up this program over a long period of time, in keeping with the limited resources.
Typical of the UDF government, the pilot experience was suddenly extended from two districts to the whole country within a period of six months from July to December 2003. This should remind our readers of the free primary school education and the recently launched Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART).
In both initiatives a wholesale national program was embarked on almost immediately after conception despite the country being ill prepared for it.
The key aspect to the drug distribution program piloted in Machinga and Salima (the quantification of the drug needs) was purely and simply left out. From the pilot program, only the delivery arrangement was retained.
Besides, the direct distribution of drugs from the CMS to the health centres put an additional workload on each CMS depot in the three regions. Each regional CMS depot had to take over from all the district hospitals of its catchment area the obligation of delivering drugs to each and every health centre in its region.
On the 20th of March 2004, two months ahead of the just ended general elections, several decrees were made by the incumbent president Bakili Muluzi, ordering the then Minister of Health, Yusuf Mwawa, to fast-track the distribution of medical drugs to all health centres and district hospitals.
These decrees put the distribution system and the CMS under even more pressure. One press report indicated that in order to hoodwink the president, CMS officials resorted to sending large numbers of condom cartons only to health facilities.
The question needs to be asked, that since Central Medical Stores started distributing drugs directly to the health centres, effectively bypassing district hospitals six months ago, what tangible benefits for the rural communities can be observed?
To answer that question, one has to go back to some of the places visited during the first round of investigation, namely Mtunthama Health Centre (Kasungu District) and Dedza District Hospital. Visited too was Chikuse Health Centre in Dedza District.
In the space of two weeks Mtunthama Health Centre was visited twice. During the first leg, information obtained indicated that since January 2004 the health centre had started receiving drugs straight from Central Medical Stores. Health centres no longer received drugs from Kasungu District Hospital. One of the nurses at the centre gave information that the deliveries are supposed to be done monthly. "Yes, some changes have been implemented in the way drugs are sent to us from the Central Medical Stores in Lilongwe," said Mrs. Kathryn Lambulira, a nurse at Mtunthama Health Centre in Kasungu adding, "of course we still send the drug requisition to Kasungu District Hospital. The new requisition form has three columns: the first column is about the quantity of drugs we have in stock. Health centre staff fill in this column. The second column is about the quantity of drugs that the health centre is ordering. Again health centre staff fill in this column. The third column is about the quantity of drugs that have been supplied by the Central Medical Staff.
Here, CMS staff fill this column." Asked whether the staff was trained before the new drug delivery system was implemented Lambulira was quick to reply that, except for one visit by a pharmacy technician from Kasungu District Hospital, no formal training was provided by the Ministry of Health and Population. The pharmacy technician only warned the health centre staff of the new system and instructed them to ensure that the requisitions were sent out in time.
When asked whether there was any marked improvement in the availability of drugs at the health centre as a result of the new system Lambulira said that so far there is relatively minor improvement. "Of course there is a slight difference in the availability of drugs at this centre. For example, antibiotics are more available now than in the past year. I have a feeling that the new system has stopped the habit of giving priority in drug delivery to the district hospital rather than us at community level. If properly managed the system could help in reducing diversion of drugs meant for us at grassroots by district official hospitals," Lambulira continued.
However, when closely looked at, this improvement is fragile with some essential drugs, such as painkillers still inadequately supplied to Mtunthama Health Centre. On the day the centre was visited at the end of May it had only received half of the Paracetamol it had ordered from the CMS in March. On that day the only painkiller that was in the pharmacy was aspirin. "This shortage is very unfortunate," commented Lambulira, "as it adversely affects patients, particularly children. How can you treat children sick with malaria using Fansidar only? Another drug that we don't have is the one we use in treating bilharzia. This is a common health condition in this area and yet the appropriate drugs have been out of stock for six months now.' The other problem learnt at Mtunthama Health Centre is that the monthly drug delivery is sometimes late. Since the CMS started to distribute drugs straight to the health centre, the dispensary closed shop once in February, 2004. "So, yes, there is a little improvement," acknowledged Lambulira, "but it needs to be tested by time. We are expecting the next delivery to happen any time from now. So let's wait and see what happens.' When Mtunthama Health Centre was visited again two weeks later, Mrs. Maluwa the nurse that was spoken to one year before (See The Chronicle * Vol. 11 * No. 469 *) said there were no drugs available. The first thing that attracted our attention as soon as we arrived at the centre was a piece of paper pinned up on the closed front door of the health centre saying: 'Mankhwala pa chipatala pano atithera. Ndiye nonse mudziwe zachimenechi, pepani.' We are very sorry to inform you that there is no medicine at this hospital.
'We have closed the health centre today," said Maluwa when we queried her to explain why the centre looked deserted, "because we have no drugs and we don't want to disappoint people. We only have Fansidar and drugs for patients suffering from asthmatic conditions. All other drugs are out of stock. There is also no Panadol or Aspirin. Even bandages are finished.
'Tomorrow,' she declared, 'I will just do the antennal clinic - nothing else. Patients suffering from malaria will only be given Fansidar and asked to buy Aspirin or Panadol from private pharmacies them-selves. Even basic anti-biotics like Bactrim and penicillin are also finished. And this is our second time to close the health centre since the implementation of the new delivery system five months ago.'
E-mail controls loom in Zimbabwe
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News Online
The addendum warns against "malicious messages"
The Zimbabwean government has proposed obliging its internet service providers to divulge details of e-mails deemed offensive or dangerous.
Zispa, the local ISP association, has asked the government to clarify its proposed addendum to providers' franchise contracts.
One ISP told BBC News Online it was not a provider's duty to police the net.
President Robert Mugabe has suggested the internet, widely developed in Zimbabwe, is a tool of colonialists.
The BBC's source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, pointed out that the move would be impracticable, given the volume of traffic involved.
Part of the ISPs' concern is the apparent vagueness of the wording in the addendum, a copy of which the BBC has obtained.
They would be required, in the event of an investigation, to pass to government officials user details relating to material featuring anything from obscenity to "anti-national activities".
It is already illegal in Zimbabwe to "undermine the authority of the president" or to "engender hostility" towards him as well as to make abusive, obscene or false statements against him.
The ISPs point out that, while they would always be happy to assist any investigation into crimes such as terrorism, it is not their job to monitor e-traffic.
"Our business is internet provision, not internet policing," said the BBC's source, drawing an analogy with car manufacturers. It would, the spokesperson said, be like making car firms responsible for the behaviour of drivers.
The proposed contract addendum, quietly distributed in mid-May, also refers to the contravention of non-existent "international cyber laws".
ISPs do not keep records of the emails they handle and would require a huge storage capacity to do so.
"I just don't think that this was carefully thought out before they sent it out to the ISPs and I don't believe that it will be practically possible," the ISP spokesperson told the BBC.
The internet is one of the few media left through which opposition groups can spread their message as the government controls the radio and television stations and newspapers are under pressure.
Only last November, 14 people were arrested for circulating an e-mail calling for protests to oust Mr Mugabe.
Along with South Africa, Zimbabwe is one of the African continent's most internet-friendly countries.
In 2002, it had 100,000 registered users.
President Mugabe last year described the internet as a tool used by "a few countries... in quest of global dominance and hegemony".
Mandela 'to lead quieter life'
Nelson Mandela, hero of South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle, says he will withdraw from public life.
Mr Mandela, 85, said he wanted to spend more time with his family and friends, complete his memoirs, read and engage in "quiet reflection".
He has been South Africa's highest-profile ambassador, recently lobbying to host the 2010 football World Cup.
He spent 27 years in prison but came out to become South Africa's first black leader in 1994.
Since stepping down as president in 1999, Mr Mandela has been actively involved in the fight against HIV/Aids, which affects some five million South Africans.
Signs of frailty
"My diary and my public activities will as from today be severely and significantly reduced," Mr Mandela said in Johannesburg.
"I'm turning 86 in a few weeks time and that is a longer life than most people are granted... I am confidant that nobody here present today will accuse me of selfishness if I asked to spend time while I'm still in good health with my family, my friends and also with myself," said the former Nobel peace prize winner.
The BBC's Hilary Andersson in Johannesburg says that he has started to show real signs of frailty, although those close to him though say he is in excellent health.
He now walks slowly, sometimes with a cane, his legs suffering from the arduous 27 years he spent in jail.
One of the world's most respected leaders, Mr Mandela, known in South Africa by his clan name Madiba, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001.
As well as flying to Switzerland to lead South Africa's bid to host the football World Cup, he has also attended Spain's royal wedding and met US boxing promoter Don King in recent weeks.
Last month, South Africa's parliament made an exception to its normal rules to let Mr Mandela make a farewell speech.
US doctors swap whites for African print
Most patients expect their doctors to wear a white coat, with a stethoscope around their neck.
But this could soon be a thing of the past in the US state of New Mexico - if a company in South Africa has its way.
The small company - based in the impoverished township of Uitsig some 30km north of Cape Town - is producing medical uniforms made from brightly colourful Ghanaian cloth.
The idea is the brainchild of an American doctor who is helping Cape Town communities affected by Aids and tuberculosis.
Dr Theresa de Cherif Smith saw the business as an opportunity to enable women in the region to become financially independent.
She told the BBC's Mohammed Allie that, although there is still some scepticism among some doctors about the new-style uniforms, a growing number are seeing the benefits for the women employed in producing them.
"Some people still think we're a bit mad having these bright West African colours in the desert of New Mexico, but others see it as a way of expressing a unique style and an arms across the Atlantic picture," she said.
The orange, blue, green and red cloth is dyed by hand in Kumasi, central Ghana.
The company provides much need employment for the region
It is then sent to a converted shipping container outside Cape Town to be made into uniforms.
Housewife Leonie Geldenhuys is one of six permanent workers employed by the project.
Mrs Geldenhuys said the regular influx of bigger orders has proved to be a major boost for her community where unemployment is rife.
"The community of Uitsig are very glad that we're able to provide them with some work too because when a big order comes in we sometimes take on 20-30 people to help us," she said.
The project has already branched out into making duvet covers and beaded ornaments for local companies and the orders keep streaming in.
The coats have become so popular that orders are being received from as far afield as Canada.
But James Dormehl, an Afrikaner who was instrumental in starting the project with Dr Smith, has rejected the possibility of mass producing the uniforms.
"It is nothing for a big company to push out hundreds of these things but who would benefit at the end of the day - not the people themselves," he said.
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