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Malawi news pt 1

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  • Christine Chumbler
    [Back after a 3 week vacation hiatus. South Africa is fabulous! I so want to live there. John, any job search advice for Americans?] Malawi: Govt Clampdown
    Message 1 of 2 , Aug 27 6:30 AM
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      [Back after a 3 week vacation hiatus. South Africa is fabulous! I so want to live there. John, any job search advice for Americans?]

      Malawi: Govt Clampdown On Illegal Cross-Border Maize Trade

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      August 24, 2004
      Posted to the web August 24, 2004


      An estimated one in eight Malawians are facing food shortages this year, causing the government to suspend maize exports to neighbouring countries, a senior official confirmed on Tuesday.

      The principal secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Charles Msosa, told IRIN the main concern was that "tonnes of maize" were being illegally transported across the country's borders.

      "We cannot have truckloads of maize leaving Malawi when the country is experiencing a deficit and would have to import stocks," Msosa said.

      He said the authorities had already put in place stiffer control measures to monitor traffic heading into Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique.

      "Should the custom officials discover maize leaving the country they will impound the maize and arrest the individuals on site. We suspect that the bulk is leaving from the north of country [into Tanzania]," he added.

      It remained unclear just how much maize was leaving Malawi illegally, but authorities said cross-border trade had "worsened" the current food shortages, which are expected to affect 1.4 million Malawians.

      "One of the reasons why maize sellers try to reach markets across the border is because of proximity - some maize producing areas are a lot closer to border towns than to local markets. Roads leading to our own markets are poor, which encourages these farmers to sell to neighbouring countries," Msosa explained.

      He downplayed suggestions that farmers were pursuing better prices in markets across the border. "If farmers were mainly seeking better prices they would spend more time getting to our local markets because there are shortages within the country. These shortages, like anywhere else, have led to an increase in maize prices," he told IRIN.

      Malawi requires 2.2 million mt of the staple maize annually, but crop assessments by the National Statistics Office have put the anticipated harvest at 1.73 million mt - 13 percent less than last year's 1.98 million mt. In parts of southern Malawi, where there has been a sharp drop in crop production is being sold at twice its normal price.

      Preliminary findings from a newly instituted system monitoring informal cross-border trading, which became effective at the beginning of this month, showed that the country has been informally importing about 1,500 mt to 2,500 mt of maize every week, mostly from Mozambique, but this would not be enough to make up the shortfall.

      "Even though we do have maize coming in informally we still are experiencing a deficit. But there are opportunists among the maize producers who will take maize across borders only to [import] the same maize to Malawi at a higher price during November [lean season]," Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Andrew Daudi said.


      Former Regime Destroyed Malawi's Economy

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      August 23, 2004
      Posted to the web August 23, 2004


      Economists in the country have said the Muluzi administration was so wasteful and arrogant in the way it spent public funds in the 10 years it was in office, it left the Malawi economy in deep crisis.

      Meeting at an economic seminar organised by the Department for International Development (DFID) in Lilongwe last week, the economic captains observed that the Muluzi administration was very arrogant and would not heed advice and concerns from donors or corporate captains on issues of over expenditure and good governance, a situation which forced the donors to freeze aid in 2001.

      DFID Economic Adviser Alan Whitworth said the aid freeze by donors forced government to borrow extensively from commercial banks resulting in a domestic debt of K54 billion which the Mutharika government has to struggle to pay back as one way of reorganising the economy.

      Whitworth, who likened the Muluzi administration to a man who spends beyond his means and ends up bankrupt, said domestic debt alone jumped from K9.5 billion in June 2001 representing 8.5% of the GDP to K54 billion in June 2004 which represents 30% of the GDP because of lavish spending.

      'What happens to a man who spends more than he earns year after year? He will go bankrupt and may end up in jail. While family and friends may help out for a while, if they see that he is making no effort to live within his means, sooner or later they will stop. The previous Malawi government was rather like this man," he said.

      Whitworth said for the past ten years government expenditure exceeded approved Budget and the fiscal deficit constantly exceeded IMF targets.

      While saying that it was not the right time for the Mutharika administration to ask for aid resumption, Whitworth said donors will not punish the new administration for sins committed by Muluzi.

      Former Finance Minister, Matthews Chikaonda, who was fired for his insistence on remaining within the spending confines of the budget likened the Muluzi administration to a man who goes into a shop and fills his basket with goods worth K2,000 and expects to pay for it with the K200 he posses in his pocket. He then proceeds to go out of the shop to ask bystanders and anyone who would listen to contribute to his basket of goods.

      'The previous government was like a man who goes in a shop with only K200 in his pocket but deliberately picks items amounting to K2000. Leaving the items at the till, he goes outside the shop asking for money from friends to settle the amount," said Chikaonda.

      Chikaonda, who is now Press Corporation supremo, said the real reasons why donors closed aid taps was because, among others the maize scandal, moves to remove three High Court Judges and the activity of Young Democrats who went scot free after hacking people with pangas simply because they were against UDF policies.

      He urged the donors to consider resuming aid now saying waiting for too long would only end up hurting the common man.

      Speaking at the same function, Naomi Ngwira, Executive Director for Institute for Policy Research and Dialogue said what Malawi now needs is international trade rather than a good international reputation.

      She said the Mutharika administration must move Malawi from being a consuming country to a producing one.

      In his inaugural speech Mutharika said he was aware that Malawi has a domestic debt that is clearly unsustainable and is eating through the country's resources thereby inhibiting growth.

      His main agenda is to tackle the economic losses that Malawi has suffered under former President Bakili Muluzi.

      A recent UNDP report indicates that Malawi, in the last 10 years has become much poorer with many more people living well below the poverty datum line than during the Kamuzu Banda era.


      African Nations Challenge IMF

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      August 23, 2004
      Posted to the web August 23, 2004

      Wezie Nyirongo

      Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Mwai Kibaki of Kenya have challenged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to involve African countries in the design of economic programs to enhance country ownership of the economic reform programs.

      The three heads of State noted that when programs fail or have not worked out as expected, the IMF blames the respective countries without realising that the Breton Woods institutions also make mistakes.

      'We raised the issue of African countries participating more in the design of economic reform programs that are supported by the IMF. This will enhance country ownership of the economic reform programs. We also noted that when programs fail or do not work out as expected, countries have been taking all the blame,' say the leaders in a communiqué released after the Summit in Uganda recently with IMF managing director Rodrigo de Rato which was also attended by ministers of Rwanda and Burundi.

      'The IMF of course also makes mistakes. We welcome moves to greater openness about such mistakes including in the latest report on the IMF Poverty Reduction Strategy. Recognition that neither side is infallible will help us to design stronger programs,' the communiqué states.

      On the relationship between Africa and the IMF, leaders urged for a reduction in the inflexibility of the IMF in dealing with Africa and requested the relationship between the IMF and Africa be re-examined in ensuring that the two sides are true partners in the development process.

      The leaders urged for greater transparency in the decision making process in the IMF and review the allocation of quotas to give Africa more representation and a voice in the IMF. They also called for an African deputy Managing Director as well as giving more African senior positions of responsibility in the IMF.

      Taking into account that the HIPC framework addressed the external debt problem and some of the countries are sinking under a heavy debt burden, the leaders pointed out the need for the IMF to review its debt sustainability analysis to take into account alternative measures of debt sustainability and develop a framework that can look at the domestic debt burden of countries.

      'On growth and structural transformation, we raised the issue of the need to finance infrastructure requirements for the region, particularly railways to reduce the cost of production and allow access to markets,' says the communiqué adding that the leaders also called for a provision of fiscal incentives in order to attract foreign direct investment noting that the IMF's economic instruments are short-term in nature and focus mainly on the Balance of Payment crisis.

      They also urged IMF to develop medium to long term instruments to address the structural problems faced by African countries and for IMF to support regional cooperation arrangements in the cases of customs unions.

      In his statement IMF Managing director Rodrigo de Rato said he was quite impressed by the commitment of the leaders of the region to step up the efforts on the ground to increase economic growth and fight poverty.

      'The strengthening global recovery will also benefit Africa and we anticipate economic growth in Sub-saharan Africa reaching close to 5 percent this year and somewhat higher in 2005. Fully seizing the opportunities of world economic growth requires persevering with efforts to integrate Africa further with the global economy,' said Rato whose visit to Uganda was his first trip to Africa as Managing Director of IMF.

      Rato said there is also need to ensure adequate financing of development in Africa, notably in the context of efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals but also in connection with the fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria, the 'Education for All' initiative and for infrastructure development.

      The IMF head also said his organisation would continue to remind the advanced economies of their responsibilities to improve opportunities for African export and better co-ordinate official development assistance in the form of grants.


      WHO to Establish VCT Centres Nationwide

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      August 23, 2004
      Posted to the web August 23, 2004

      Pilirani Phiri

      The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it will establish Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) centres in the country as one way of encouraging people to undergo HIV/AIDS testing.

      Outgoing WHO resident representative William Aldis said recently in an interview immediately after taking leave of the State President Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika in Lilongwe that WHO has embarked on plans to open up 55 VCT centres next year in the country's strategic districts.

      "WHO feels Malawi is doing a lot in her efforts to combat the further spread of HIV/AIDS in as far as her limited resources are concerned. To complement this effort, WHO will next year open up 55 VCT centres so that more people should undergo VCT, which is the genesis of behaviour change," said Aldis.

      Aldis said in any HIV/AIDS mitigation campaign, knowing your sero status is a stepping stone for the world, especially the third world countries - to combat the pandemic's further spread.

      He, however, noted that more attention in the country has been diverted to HIV/AIDS sidelining other diseases such as malaria which, he said, is also killing many people.

      HIV/AIDS statistics from National AIDS Commission (NAC) indicate that the pandemic's prevalence rate (percentage of the population infected with HIV/AIDS) has stabilised from 14.6 per cent in 2001 to 14.4 per cent last year.

      Currently there are about 776,000 HIV/AIDS positive adults (14 - 49) years, of which 58 per cent are women.

      It is estimated that only 10 per cent of people from the 12 countries of the sub saharan Africa, Malawi inclusive, know their sero status either because they shun VCT or they do not have access to VCT.

      Currently government is advocating adequate, high quality, cost effective, totally confidential, and accessible VCT services country-wide.


      Muluzi Behind 'Fast Track' Initiative

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      August 23, 2004
      Posted to the web August 23, 2004

      Pilirani Phiri

      it is a strategy to discredit the State President and make him toe the UDF party line

      UDF National Chairman Bakili Muluzi is to use the UDF 'Fast Track' movement and he is strategically using Dumbo Lemani to fight the new Mutharika government for its continued disinterest in party affairs, The Chronicle has learnt

      A high placed UDF source has disclosed that the party has created a plan to strategically use Lemani, a close friend and constant companion of the former leader to 'throw spanners in the works' of President BIngu wa Mutharika's attempts at maintain a distinct separating of party from government as promised in his inauguration speech in May. Mutharika has also promised a crackdown on alleged corrupt public officials, a fact that sends jitters on the party.

      "The Fast Track is now Muluzi's political strategy aimed at fighting the Mutharika government because of its lack of interest in party affairs. They want to try to make Bingu toe the UDF party line and not alienate himself from the party. Its a two man political strategy," said the source.

      The source further said Muluzi's recent ordering of Lemani to slow down and stop fighting the new government was just a smokescreen, saying there was no way Lemani could defy Muluzi in newspapers in the way he did. "Examine Muluzi and Lemani's relationship over the years. Do you really believe that Lemani can defy Muluzi when the former leader called on him to stop fighting Mutharika. It was purely a political ploy and strategy to make people believe Muluzi is against the Fast Track when in fact he is controlling it, though remotely. That is part of the strategy these long time comrades are playing at," said the source.

      But in a telephone interview Thursday, Lemani naturally only confirmed to have heard that people were speculating that Muluzi is behind the Fast Track but said it was not entirely true. "How do you think Muluzi, a former President can be involved in the Fast Track to be fighting Mutharika when he is the one who handpicked him (Mutharika) to run for the UDF," said Lemani.

      Asked as to what the purpose and functions of the Fast Track is, Lemani said his group is there to re-mould and rejuvenate the UDF party by bringing some former members back into the fold like Brown Mpinganjira and his National Democratic Alliance. "It was me who talked to Mpinganjira to rejoin the UDF. This is what Fast Track is there for, to keep the party alive," he said.

      However, Chancellor College political scientist Boniface Dulani said, after noticing that UDF party has suffered a lot since Mutharika took power, it could be possible for Muluzi to be behind the Fast Track, saying Muluzi wanted a successor that he could easily manipulate and fully control. "Muluzi wanted a successor whom he could fully control and manipulate but Mutharika seems to be his own man. And if what you are saying is true then it is sad for Muluzi to be interfering in the new regime," said Dulani.

      Muluzi last week during the start of his nationwide rallies said the UDF party was superior to government, and also surprisingly reminded Mutharika that Malawians were still waiting for the K500 million loan he had promised them for the vulnerable during the campaign. Analysts find Muluzi's charge as an attempt at undermining the integrity of the State President. They state that Muluzi is pointing fingers at the President when he himself failed hopelessly to deliver on promises made from the 1994 and 1999 election campaigns.

      So far, Mutharika, through his outspoken Chief of Staff Ken Ng'oma has since hit back saying Muluzi should be the last person to comment on the issue because the party chairman is aware government is struggling to settle internal debt incurred during his reign. "The new President is a careful planner and does not believe in buying people with money," the local press quoted Ng'oma as saying last week.

      At the same rally Muluzi also shrewdly referred to the arrest of his faithful aid Humphrey Mvula on allegations of corruption saying the Mutharika government is trying to draw Malawi back to the one party regime of arrests and detentions where one woke up thinking, "when am I going to be arrested." Muluzi has a history of being removed from office and being suspended from the MCP party by late Dr. Kamuzu Banda. For quite some time he lived in fear of being arrested.

      Of late, some UDF gurus have said they are ready to testify in an ongoing court case where the opposition is accusing the UDF to having rigged the elections, a move described as political blackmail by the civil society. "If they can testify, then government should arrest them all because they are confessing to have been involved in an electoral crime and have been withholding information. That is a criminal offense," said Emmie Chanika of Civil Liberties Committee (CILIC).

      Meanwhile, political pundits have said with the ongoing sour relationship between Mutharika, Muluzi and some UDF party gurus there is more to the existence of Fast Track than meets the eye and that a big political shake up is imminent in the UDF. Pundits say Muluzi's nationwide tour is, in essence an attempt to drum up grassroots support for himself against an imminent clash with President Mutharika.

      Many say Muluzi is fighting a losing battle because President Mutharika continues to enjoy favour from the larger community, and every radical, non partisan decision he makes for the nation, especially in correcting the wrongs of the past - enamour him more to the people.


      Hospitals & the Drug Supply Situation

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      August 23, 2004
      Posted to the web August 23, 2004


      The issue of a continued shortage of essential drugs throughout the hospitals and medical centres in the country has highlighted a prime reason why Malawi needs to put in place 'fail-safe' mechanisms for ensuring the supply chain is not interrupted in any way.

      No reform can take place unless, and until there is a realisation that the current situation does not cater sufficiently to the needs. Additionally, investigations need to be carried out to ascertain why there was need to change the procurement system as well as to discover who benefitted from the slack procedures now in place.

      The finger points firmly to those in decision making positions, not only in cabinet, but also in the civil service who have had a willing cow to milk and therefore have resisted reform for selfish reasons.

      A key component of the reform process has to be political will, an element that has been sadly missing. Additionally, the reform process needs financial support if it is to succeed. The next installment discusses these, and other problems in an effort to draw attention to the desperate situation that exists in Malawi. Part XV continues

      Drug Procurement: Catalyst to the Crisis

      The endorsing of a major reform on the Central Medical Stores (CMS) was an idea that generally received almost unanimous support. Everybody in the system agreed that the drug supply chain was sick and needed to be drastically reformed.

      Paradoxically, not many officials were willing to speak on what they thought the system was ailing in. And the few that were willing to answer questions gave two conflicting diagnoses. Some blamed the drug shortages in the public health institutions on serious pilferage at the grassroots.

      They said that that the top levels of the drug procurement and distribution chain were relatively efficient and free of corruption. Others argued that the drug shortages in the public health system was as a direct result of massive corrupt practices in the drug procurement activities at the top.

      To date the Central Medical Stores has not been reformed despite several attempts. The failure to reform this key player may be directly related to the contradictory views at the policy level. The story of the failure in reforming the CMS has many twists and turns.

      Investigations revealed that the groundwork to reform the Central Medical Stores, which is constitutionally mandated to ensure that drugs are available in all hospitals in Malawi for 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, started being laid down in 1995 with the meeting that took place at Kalikuti Hotel in Lilongwe. During this meeting several people presented papers.

      'This is the meeting where the decision was made to review the activities of the Central Medical Stores after it became so apparent that the institution was no longer able to carry out its duties as before,' said Mr. Wynn Chalira, himself a former Controller of CMS and one of the people who presented papers during this historic workshop.

      Chalira continued: 'Change of government policy, the increase of disease conditions in the country mainly due to the advent of the HIV/AIDS crisis, a negative attitude, particularly among medical staff to drugs and other medical supplies and negative economic realities in the country necessitated new approaches in the drug distribution chain.'

      Subsequent to this workshop a Cabinet Paper and a draft Parliamentary Bill were written in 1996, but for reasons only known to those in power, the bill was not debated by Parliament. In the same year, Deloitte and Touche wrote a report recommending that the Central Medical Stores should be privatized.

      The Ministry of Health and Population rejected it for sounding 'too radical' and 'too aggressive.' Between 1996 and 2000 not much happened.

      'Of course there are several problems that the CMS reformation process has encountered since it began,' argued one highly placed source in the Ministry of Health and Population who spoke on condition of anonymity, 'the main problem though is that the project always falls victim to electioneering.

      In 1999, for instance, the project collapsed at the election time and the same happened in 2004. With elections taking place in May nothing could be done to arrest the malpractice in the drug procurement and distribution system in Malawi. It was much too sensitive a move for those in power.

      'High profile politicians did everything possible to ensure that our efforts failed because some of them were direct beneficiaries of the mess they created in the system.'

      After a period of stagnation that followed the 1999 presidential and parliamentary elections, the idea of reforming the CMS regained momentum in 2000 at the donor's insistence. Several reasons were given for the revival of the project including:

      1. With the worsening situation of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country it became very clear that Malawi needed to re-examine its public health services delivery system. Especially, if it is to cope with the demand at grassroots level where the majority of Malawians were not able to purchase drugs at retail price in private pharmacies or private hospitals.

      2. There was an apparent view that Malawi would not be able to attract funding from any source for the purchase of ARVs if it did not put its house in order.

      3. There were rampant rumours of corruption at procurement level as well as massive pilferage at grassroots level.

      In May 2000, DFID contracted a project design team which produced a paper entitled 'Strengthening the Central Medical Stores and Drug Supply Chain, Malawi - Issues Relating to the Supply of Drugs, Government of Malawi.' Its conclusion reads in part:

      'Malawi is facing major health problems and there is a need to have an efficient, cost-effective drug supply chain to deliver accessible, quality drugs for both preventive and curative use. DFID (UK) may consider a support program to facilitate the transformation of the CMS to Trust status. This will involve both supporting legislative change and capacity building.' At that time, the necessity of targeting the Central Medical Stores was apparently not disputed in the government circles. The Draft Paper for the Cabinet Committee on HIV and Health, which was leaked during investigation said: 'It is vital to the work of the Ministry of Health and Population that CMS works properly.'

      It gave the following as reasons for this initiative:

      1. CMS provides a vital link to ensure adequate supply of drugs to the majority of Malawians.

      2. All vertical health programs rely on the CMS.

      3. The outcome of government's request for support for HIV, TB and Malaria depends heavily on the existence of an efficient CMS.

      4. Reforming the CMS will enable MOHP (to) access HIPC financial allocation more easily.

      Put in more general terms it was felt, according to the same paper, that three organizational features were necessary to run an efficient CMS as a not-for-profit business namely; tight financial management, provider/client accountability and skilled human resource.

      'CMS's income must be linked to its sales and be reliable,' reads the paper in part, 'CMS must have a responsibility to ensure that it does not lose money to avoid further decapitalization... CMS should be a responsible seller... it should guaranty the quality of drugs, and also that these are being sold at the lowest reasonable price... Any large not-for-profit business requires high-level management skills - for CMS, the key skills are pharmacy, logistics and business management.'

      In 2000 a memorandum was agreed upon between DFID and the Ministry of Health and Population and letters were exchanged between MOHP and Malawi's largest bilateral donor to the health sector Britain. While many other donors, namely World Bank, European Union (which is mainly dealing with central and district level planning), USAID (mainly reproductive health) and GTZ (human resources) were engaged in the health sector in Malawi, DFID happened to be the sole donor of the project to reform the CMS.

      However, instead of committing itself to supporting a long-term five-year program as it was originally envisaged, the Department For International Development of UK preferred to stagger its support in phases. It committed itself to providing £700, 000 to support the 18 months-long project called 'Strengthening the Central Medical Stores and the drugs supply chain,' which was meant to prepare the ground for any further involvement by creating a conducive policy environment.

      An appraisal suggested that a five-year program would be 'too high risk, even with clear breakpoints. It was considered necessary to obtain concrete commitment from government to the necessary fundamental policy changes in advance of any large scale investment,' reads the Project Memorandum.

      It goes on saying that this project, considered as phase 1 of a possible larger reform program, would ensure that the essential policy framework was put in place to capitalize on follow on joint Government of Malawi/donor investment, which could result in a procurement basket or district level drug funds.

      Going by this document, it is obvious that DFID was not very confident with the future of the project. Two issues bear testimony to this conclusion.

      First, the design of the project, as shown above, indicates that DFID was avoiding any long-term commitment.

      Secondly, DFID's insistence on the fact that further support to the project will depend on a successful implementation of the first phase, reflects a relative lack of confidence in the success of the reform even before it started.

      In the letter (dated 5 September 2000) sent to the Secretary for Health and Population where DFID officially confirms its support for the projects, it is clearly stated that the 'the support proposed focuses only on the necessary preconditions for possible future phases.' In the same paragraph it is also stressed that, 'the main output of this phase will be an agreed (at high level) cash-limited and needs-based approximate allocation of resources by drug and facility. Evidence of the application of the new criteria would be necessary to the follow on phase (for DFID)'.

      Despite the fact that this was envisaged as a very important project, it appears that the rest of the donor community has taken the 'wait-and-see' attitude - abstaining from providing any financial support at that stage.

      According to the DFID Project Memorandum, it is evident that other donors were hesitant to support the first phase. 'Although other donors are interested in having a well functioning system (including World Bank),' the document reads, they were not interested in joining forces to undertake the institutional change reforms needed prior to basket type financing.

      From the account above it appears that the DFID funded CMS reform project is essentially a preliminary stage making a credible case for investing further in the CMS if the criteria for additional subvention was met fully.
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