- Malawi: Cabinet Reshuffle Has Some Unwelcome Surprises - Analysts
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
August 1, 2005
Posted to the web August 1, 2005
Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika on Sunday dismissed his second vice president, Cassim Chilumpha, who was also Minister of Water Development, in a cabinet reshuffle that surprised some political analysts.
Although the new cabinet still has 20 ministers, the number of deputy ministers increased from eight to 12. Mutharika has not given any reason for dropping Chilumpha.
Boniface Dulani, a political science lecturer at Chancellor College, accused Mutharika of reneging on an earlier promise to cut the country's already bloated bureaucracy.
"The president is not sticking to his word - he promised to appoint people on merit, and this does not look like it. These are political appointments and the president wants to consolidate his political base - this could spell disaster for the economy," he remarked.
When Mutharika took office in May he was widely expected to tackle some of the challenges his predecessor, Bakili Muluzi, had struggled with, like rampant corruption. Muluzi named 17 ministers when he took power in 1994 but the cabinet later ballooned to 46 - the main reason for government overspending, Dulani commented to IRIN.
Rafiq Hajat of the Institute for Policy Interaction noted: "History repeats itself - it is unfortunate that mankind cannot learn from the past. This [expansion] is based on political appointments."
Although Chilumpha and Eunice Kazembe, Minister of Natural Resources, were the only cabinet members to lose their positions, several other ministers were transferred to other portfolios or demoted.
Former Information Minister Ken Lipenga - under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau for his "unauthorised" commissioning of 500,000 presidential portraits that were printed at a cost of $784,000 - was moved down to head of the ministry of vocational training.
Mutharika has denied allegations that his decisions were politically strategic, saying the new appointments were based on merit.
Malawi: MDGs Can Be Achieved, UN Envoy
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
August 1, 2005
Posted to the web August 1, 2005
Despite widespread poverty and recurring food shortages, Malawi can still achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), according to Prof Jeffrey Sachs, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Advisor on the MDGs.
Sachs, who arrived in the country this weekend, told IRIN the purpose of his visit to was "to talk to donors so that they increase aid to Malawi".
About 65 percent of the 12 million people live below the poverty line and the country has experienced widespread crop failures that could see the number of those in need of food aid rising to about 4 million this year.
"The financial support that the country gets is not enough to sustain itself - Malawi has 85 percent of its people relying on farming activities, and these farmers do not have farm inputs ... to improve their harvests," he noted.
Although the government had announced a fertiliser subsidy, there was no guarantee that every farmer would be able to access it.
"I would have loved it if the poorest people were given free farm inputs, and donors increased their aid to Malawi. This, I believe, would be the only way for the country to achieve the MDGs," Sachs said.
"I do not think the level of aid to Malawi is sufficient, or that the programmes the government implements are sufficient to meet these challenges, but there is still time to do more," he added.
One of the main aims of the MDGs is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by halving the number of people who live on less than US $1 a day by 2015.
"I am also very sympathetic to the government - much of its resources are spent servicing its debts while the poor are dying. I would like to see donors cancelling 100 percent of the country's debts, so that the money can be used to finance development programmes," Sachs commented.
Although rich countries had been urged to contribute to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria, Sachs observed that "the amount of money contributed to the Fund has not been sufficient".
According to UN estimates, $8 billion was needed to efficiently combat HIV/AIDS, which was expected to increase to $15 billion by 2007.
"So far the Fund has received pledges for only one-tenth of the amount required. I would love it if more money were given to the Fund, so that countries such as Malawi would be able to fight diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS," Sachs said.
He was scheduled to meet President Bingu wa Mutharika and major donors before leaving on Tuesday.
Parliament Could Turn Dictatorial - Observers
The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)
August 1, 2005
Posted to the web August 1, 2005
Political observers have differed over the National Assembly's adoption of a resolution that seeks to bring greater autonomy to its operations so that it can take charge of its affairs, including its budget without the meddling of the President or the Executive.
Among several reforms parliament wishes to put forward are the raising of the status of the Speaker to be placed immediately after the State Vice President and also a demand to be able to draw and control the House's own calendar.
People's Progressive Party (PPM) President Aleke Banda MP for Nkhatabay south said despite a steady increase of parliamentary powers since 1994, the National Assembly remains weak in its capacity and statutory authority due to a lack of resources. "The Executive has cut budgets and disbursements to parliament, weakening its ability to undertake its core oversight functions. In turn parliament has failed to clearly articulate its priorities and devise realistic strategies as an effective check on the Executive as well as being a key player in the public policy arena," he said.
He said the status of the Speaker is the lowest, compared to the other two head of the three arms of government like the Chief Justice for the Judiciary and the President for the Executive.
A political commentator from Lilongwe felt strongly that parliament's decision to adopt its own resolutions would make it exceedingly more powerful and dictatorial in the end.
"We have had a thirty-one-year Executive dictatorship because the man at the helm of the Presidency was made 'Life President' which subsequently gave him too much power. Now with parliament's desire to give itself greater power and autonomy there are fears that this could lead to a parliamentary dictatorship. You just look at the recent developments in parliament! Just because the Executive is currently so weak - the legislature took advantage of it," the commentator said.
He went on, saying that it was ironic that the same Honourable Aleke Banda who was instrumental in giving the first Malawi president the 'Life Presidency' tag and status, a move that subsequently plunged the country into dictatorial, autocratic rule, is the selfsame one who has moved the motion that will give parliament absolute power.
When this was pointed out to Aleke Banda, he reacted exasperatedly saying this was not important to the issue at hand. "That's irrelevant," he exploded "We are talking about now, so lets not talk about the single party rule and the past".
Banda and other political commentators say they see nothing wrong in what parliament is attempting to do.
In a telephone interview Banda wondered if a proposal to enable parliament to decide to set its timetable could be viewed as demanding too much. "In the preceding years, parliament has not dealt with a lot of legislation, all committees are not meeting as regularly as they should be and, if an attempt is being made to change the status quo, is that asking for too much?" asked Banda.
He said what they want is that parliament must be able to determine its own agenda without that being decided purely by the needs of the Executive.
Chancellor College's Head of Administration and Political Studies, Bonface Dulani said it was not true that the country could plunge into 'a parliamentary dictatorship' because the same would be the case if the Executive were given too much power.
"The proposal we have heard can give a lot of power to the legislature and one would argue that they already have a lot of powers by virtue of their parliamentary numbers."
"Certainly we have a situation where the executive is weak in terms of parliamentary numbers. But this is constitutional because both the Members of Parliament and the President are elected using a separate ballot," he said.
He said this means that sometimes, the one who could be elected President could come from a party that does not have a majority in Parliament and this is part of the constitutional construct and that was how the political game goes.
"That's part of politics because it is imperative that government finds ways and means of working effectively with the opposition," said Dulani.
He said it was necessary that the Speaker serve a full five year term as an 'impartial' officer of the House without hindrances from any other authority, the Executive or the political parties.
He said the Speaker's removal should be subjected to a two third majority in the assembly similar to that of the President and his Vice. "Raising the status of the Office of the Speaker is vital for the institution itself and would help to bolster the necessary independence of the Legislature from the Executive and other political interference.
I also suggest that the title of the Speaker be changed to Right Honourable Speaker."
Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI) Rafiq Hajat and a Democratic Progressive (DPP) official Shyley Kondowe said in separate interviews that they had no objections over what the parliamentarians have agreed to moot provided they work in consultation with the Executive.
MP for Thyolo Central Bob Khamisa said when the motion was on the floor that it was imperative that the reforms should not weaken the powers of the President.
"Nowhere in the world can you have Parliament not consulting the president. As Members of Parliament we should also be careful with the powers we want to give the Speaker because sometimes we will have a 'crazy' Speaker who would want to be like a President," he said Hajat said the move by parliament was not a question of too much power but it was just setting itself in its right frame as provided for in the constitution so that it is able to provide the necessary checks and balances required in a democracy.
"Out of parliament's 193 members, we only have two researchers and two computers. The reasoning is that the Parliamentary budget and Judiciary budget are protected expenditures and yet Treasury can cut it automatically without parliamentary approval. This takes control out of Parliament's hands," he said.
Kondowe said what is needed is an interdependent relationship in terms of operation, unlike the judiciary.
"Like where the Executive has drawn up some policies it will need Parliament to approve them while Parliament has to wait for business from the Executive and this only shows the two can not be completely independent of each other," said Kondowe.
He said even for the meetings of parliamentary committees to take place there has to be something that comes from cabinet.
"Like in the case of the Business and Finance Committee, it can meet over audit and financial report which are an output or product of the Executive, so there can never be a total de-linking of Parliament from the Executive or vice versa," he said.
Parliament sits again in September to discuss this and other issues after rising on Friday last week in the Budget Session. A Budget of nearly MK119 billion was passed.
Govt. Confident of More Donor Support
The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)
August 1, 2005
Posted to the web August 1, 2005
Government has expressed confidence that prospects for more budgetary support in the near future are "very high" due to the confidence the present administration has instilled both locally and internationally.
The Deputy Minister of Information and Tourism Henry Mumba told The Chronicle Friday, a day after the British Department for International Development (DFID) announced budgetary support to the tune of £20 million (approximately K4.4 billion at the current exchange rate) that more donor aid is on its way.
"We are happy that at long last the international community is confident with the Malawi government. This is a clear indication of trust and we are optimistic more donor support will be forthcoming," said Mumba.
A statement from the British High Commission in Lilongwe released Thursday said; "the money was transferred this week (last week) following approval of the budget by the National Assembly." Effectively, DFID becomes the first donor to give Balance of Payment (BOP) support to Malawi, after the budget was passed a fortnight ago on 15 July.
In the approved K119 billion budget, about 40 percent is to be sourced from donors and international development partners.
Minister Mumba said it takes only one or two donors to "unlock" the inflow of money and then others will follow suit.
Malawi has suffered under a three-year aid freeze due to, among other reasons, rampant corruption, economic mismanagement and bad governance by the previous Bakili Muluzi and UDF regime.
The present administration came to prominence because of its 'zero corruption' stance and has also made sure that public expenditure is controlled.
The Head of DFID in Malawi, Roger Wilson said that Malawi has turned the corner, and that the UK is now stepping up its support because of the real progress that the small nation is making. "The approval of this new budget support follows a sustained period of improved fiscal management by the Government of Malawi," said Wilson.
He said the aid would be used to support the Government's strategy to reduce its domestic debt in order that interest rates are reduced and also that government services its debt.
Interest rates currently stand at 25 percent since last year June and domestic debt stock is at K60 billion. "Reducing debt service charges will enable the Government to spend more on growth and development. The decision by parliament to approve the budget has enabled DFID to release this aid," he added.
DFID says the release of the money is as a result of an assessment conducted by the Common Approach to Budget Support (CABS) on the country's economic and development policies and progress with improving financial management and with tackling corruption.
CABS, that groups DFID, European Commission (EC), Norwegian Embassy and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), conducted a review of the country's economic performance in March 2005 and found that enough had been done in a sustainable manner. This has led to the disbursement of the funds.
The statement further adds that some other donors that are part of CABS are most likely to release their budgetary support when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) board approves a new Poverty Reduction Growth Facility (PRGF) during their board meeting next month (August).
United Kingdom (UK) aid to Malawi, will be around £60 million (approximately 13.2 billion) this year, an increase of £5 million (K1.1 billion) from the last fiscal year. "UK aid is expected to increase in future years if Malawi keeps on track with current progress," the British Government says.
Problems Rock DPP, Party Threatened
The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)
August 1, 2005
Posted to the web August 1, 2005
Several senior officials and many supporters in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) feel cheated by what is going on and have raised concern over the future and direction of President Bingu wa Mutharika's party following its inability to elect an effective National Executive Committee. They say there is need to hold a national convention now that six months have passed since the party was formed.
Sources in the party disclosed to The Chronicle this week that the party's 10 member interim executive committee which was put in place early this year has not met since March and many feel there may be an exodus from the party should nothing happen soon.
The party's National Executive Committee (NEC), codenamed the 'National Governing Council', is supposed to be the party's policy making body and was meant to meet regularly to map out direction for the party.
The sources said instead, all decisions regarding the party are made in a dictatorial fashion by President Mutharika and his Secretary General, Ken Zikhale Ngo'ma, which decisions are then directed to the other interim NEC members to implement without question.
Some of the DPP interim NEC members include Mutharika himself, Agriculture Minister Gwanda Chakuamba who is also DPP Vice President, Foreign Affairs Minister Davis Katsonga, Ken Zikhale Ngo'ma, Home Affairs Minister Uladi Mussa, Transport Minister Henry Mussa, Gender Minister Joyce Banda and Deputy Local Government Minister Patricia Kaliati.
The sources alleged that the party's Treasurer General Henry Mussa does not handle party funds as all payments, including those for the DPP blue cloth, are made by the President and Ken Zikhale Ng'oma.
The sources also said that the party's offices in Area 12 in Lilongwe are dysfunctional because of a lack of necessary equipment, including basic office furniture. "It appears it is only the President and the Secretary General who know the future of the party while the rest of us are left to follow blindly," said the sources.
The sources said each of the senior members of the party contribute personal funds for the rallies that DPP regularly holds in different parts of the country. "Most of us don't know the financial position of the party. We are told to contribute from our personal funds when we hold rallies," said the sources.
However in an interview on Tuesday DPP Publicity Secretary Hetherwick Ntaba said the absence of an elected NEC was nothing to worry about. "The DPP has not held its national convention because the party is new and people vying for positions have to be known to the voters. The interim committee it doing a good job and there is no reason to get concerned," he said.
Ntaba said the interim committee and the Treasurer General, Henry Mussa, are aware of the financial position of the party and that they are fully involved in the decision making process of the party.
He however acknowledged that DPP senior members contribute directly to the party from their pockets to cover costs of any political rallies the party holds.
"People join the DPP to serve the party and not to get paid. And serving the party includes a willingness to invest in the party and helping in paying the costs of any activity of the party," he said.
Ntaba also admitted that the party's offices in Area 12 are indeed not fully furnished but added that the situation was not people's business saying the party would equip the offices in due course.
The Publicity Secretary said everything is okay in the President's party that has caused so much interest and debate since it was formed early this year.
Lands Ministry Launches HIV/Aids Programme
The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)
August 1, 2005
Posted to the web August 1, 2005
Hopkins Mundango Nyirenda
The Ministry of Lands, Housing and Surveys last week launched their HIV/AIDS programme, a strategy designed to combat the pandemic, which is affecting productivity. The strategy was developed as a result of perpetual absenteeism of staff from work through sickness and because staff are dying.
The programme which has been supported by a National AIDS Commission [NAC] grant to the tune of MK22 million will help in mainstreaming and capacity building aimed at checking the devastating effects of the scourge.
Presiding at the official launch, Lands Minister Bazuka Mhango said that HIV/AIDS is not a joke but a reality and that it has destabilized and affected the work of various institutions in society.
"HIV/AIDS is a menace to the workforce and this is why govern-ment has designed this initiative to combat the scourge, which now results in a serious shortage of technical staff who are not easy to replace. As a result, the ministry is not performing to its expected capacity," said Mhango.
He said the goals of the strategy are to reduce transmission, improve the quality life of those affected and infected and promote behaviour change.
Speaking earlier, the Executive Director for NAC Dr. Bizwick Mwale said it is most worrying that the scourge is killing the productive citizens between the age of 15-49 and that 14.4 % of this age group are living with HIV/AIDS.
"Government is losing a lot of experts to the scourge, funeral costs are accelerating, absenteeism from work because they are sick or attending to the sick is costing government dearly," said Mwale.
He said there is a need for the government ministries to put in place strategies that will stop the pandemic in its tracks if Malawi is to forge ahead with the development agenda of the country.
Kanyezi Aids Committee: a Role Model From Dedza for Malawi
The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)
August 1, 2005
Posted to the web August 1, 2005
Dedza district has an HIV and AIDS committee that is engaged in the fight against the pandemic using unbelievably meagre resources.
This is against a propensity for a lot of HIV and AIDS organisations to be established purely to satisfy their founders own individual needs.
Most of the resources meant for the fight against the pandemic have been used to purchase top-of-the-range vehicles rather than being used specifically in this fight.
It is a breath of fresh air therefore, that there are still other people out there who have dedicated their lives to assisting their communities in this same HIV/AIDS fight for no other reason than to overcome this greatest of challenges faced by countries in the sub Saharan region.
The pandemic has taken a heavy toll in many of our villages in Malawi, making many helpless as they are either infected or affected.
It is often too shocking to see many of the people one fraternizes with being reduced to skeletons and cabbages before gradually succumbing to the inevitable deaths due to HIV and AIDS related diseases.
A lot of initiatives as a means of intervention to fight the pandemic have seen us creating institutions that could come up with 'a reasoning strategy' to counter the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
Worst still the virus has proved to be elusively calculative that the world scientists have racked their brains in order to find a cure against it, with little success in sight.
To mitigate the impact of the pandemic, the Malawi government established in its twenty-eight districts what are known as District AIDS Coordinating Committees (DACC). These are further split into Community AIDS Coordinating Committees (CAC) that work in co-ordination with Village AIDS Committees (VAC).
In Dedza district there is one Kanyezi Community AIDS Coordinating Committee, which was established in 1998. This group is usually known as Kanyezi CAC.
This CAC that is composed of people whose level of literacy is not so high has achieved a lot in its fight against the pandemic and, by their successes are often more knowledgeable on the pandemic than many better resourced organisations.
The CAC has come up with a working operational structure that uses a relay reaction comprising of a Home Based Care (HBC) Committee, an Orphan Care Committee, a Youth Empowerment Committee and a Women's Resource Mobilisation Committee that is created for Income Generating Activities and Preventive Counsellors.
Felesta Zige is one of the Kanyezi CAC's trained HBC providers of which 221 are females out of a total 321.
She says sometimes when the patients do not have shelter the Youth Empowerment Committee helps in mobilising the people in the area to build a shelter for them.
Zige says as HBC providers their job also entails that they advise those affected by HIV and AIDS related diseases on the importance of producing a will when they still have some sanity.
She says others get angry when advised about this as they think the insinuation is that they are about to die.
Zige says they teach them that a will is not for the educated, neither is it for the rich nor those living in urban centres, because usually when they tell people about writing out and leaving a will their reply is always; 'that is for the rich who have vehicles.' "During their illness we also register the number of children they have and upon their deaths we consider the children as orphans. We hand them over to the Orphans Committee, which also starts looking after them thereafter.
Azele Kachale, the CAC's Orphan Care Committee Chair says his Committee also works closely with the VACs which link up with parents and traditional leaders in the villages to identify any orphans that need taking care of.
Currently, the CAC looks after 6,400 orphans in 310 villages.
Phillipina Tsinkha is Chairlady for the CAC's Women Resource Mobilisation Group that is a composition of women volunteers who donate an agreed amount of money and time regularly. They have identified a treasurer to keep the money.
Tsinkha says the women are allowed to borrow from the savings and pay back with a small interest.
The treasurer releases the money after agreed and clear unanimous instruction from the group through what is known as the Rotating Savings Credit Association (ROSCA). "We look at these interests as a profit which we then given out to orphanages as part of our charity work," she says.
Perhaps the biggest project the CAC has embarked on is the establishment of Community Based Child Care (CBCC) in the 310 villages, which it looks after. The CBCC are also a major beneficiary of the proceeds, which are generated by the women's groups.
Each CBCC has identified gardens, which all the committee members jointly cultivate to produce food for orphans and the patients under the care of the HBC committees.
Kachale says the gardens are therefore another source of funds since they sell the surplus and the proceeds goes to activities like assisting orphans or sensitising the youth about dangers of risky behaviour, and care of those suffering as the result of the HIV and AIDS. "We also undertake the diversification of crops as we plant cassava and sweet potatoes alongside the maize cultivation," he says.
Tsinkha disclosed that so far, 37 CBCC have each built feeding houses, which they are using as catering points where food is prepared and given to orphans and vulnerable children who come to there to eat a regular meal. "We do not only depend on the rains but during the dry season we even cultivate in the dambos as this helps so much to mitigate any of the food problems that we face like the just ended growing season where we experienced drought," she said.
She said the preventive committees in all the VACs are responsible for children of between 6-15 years whom they constantly teach about the dangers of HIV and AIDS.
She said they believe what the CAC has been teaching the youth is bearing fruits.
Often in the more rural areas all that is needed for some success to be enjoyed in the fight against the pandemic is a little resource base and a massive heart for volun-teer work. The work in Dedza should lead the way as to how much can be accomplished with little.
Zim opposition leader walks free
Fanuel Jongwe | Harare, Zimbabwe
02 August 2005 12:29
Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai walked out of court a free man on Tuesday after prosecutors scrapped treason charges that had been hanging over his head since 2003.
Tsvangirai (53) was arrested in June 2003 after a week of protests called by his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that the government said were aimed at overthrowing President Robert Mugabe.
Prosecutor Florence Ziyambi told the Harare Magistrate's Court that the state was "withdrawing the charges before plea" without stating any reasons for the about-turn.
A conviction on treason charges carries the death penalty in Zimbabwe.
Wearing a grey suit and blue shirt, Tsvangirai showed no emotion when the magistrate read out the prosecution's decision.
"He never committed treason," Tsvangirai's lawyer Eric Matinenga said.
"Someone has seen sense and did the proper thing. Admittedly, someone might decide to bring up the case again, but when you look at the facts I don't think anybody in his right senses would do so," he told reporters.
Tsvangirai himself declined to comment on the decision, referring journalists to his lawyer.
The opposition leader had denied that the strikes and marches were aimed at toppling Mugabe, arguing that they were spontaneous demonstrations of public anger at the mounting hardships faced by Zimbabweans.
The former trade-union leader who formed the MDC in late 1999 was acquitted for treason in October last year after an almost six-month trial on separate charges of plotting to kill Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980.
The Zimbabwean government sought leave to appeal in December, but withdrew that appeal in February, shortly before parliamentary elections in March.
Chris Mhike, a member of Tsvangirai's defence team, said: "It simply means the state had no case against Tsvangirai.
"If they had any evidence against him, why would it take them two years trying and failing to come up with a trial date?"
Tsvangirai was arrested in June 2003 and spent two weeks in police cells and a remand prison before being granted bail.
At that hearing two years ago, Tsvangirai was brought before the High Court in leg irons and wore khaki prison garb for his bail hearing. The usually clean-shaven opposition leader had a sprouting grey beard when he was released from jail.
He has been appearing in court regularly for remand, but his lawyers complained at the last hearing that the state was taking too long to go to trial.
Mhike said the withdrawal of the charges means Tsvangirai will now focus on his work.
"Practically, this is the end of the matter and he can now focus on his work. He lost a lot of time at the courts and this also restricted his travels."
The opposition leader has over the past month visited communities affected by the demolitions campaign that has left 700 000 homeless and which he has condemned as an act of retribution against his supporters.
Tsvangirai is also preparing for a challenge in the Supreme Court against Mugabe's victory in 2002 elections, although no date has been set for the case.
His party is also challenging in court the outcome of the March parliamentary polls that gave the MDC 41 seats compared with 78 for Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF. -- Sapa-AFP
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