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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi: Maize Prices Still Rising UN Integrated Regional Information Networks February 7, 2006 Posted to the web February 7, 2006 Johannesburg Scarcity of
    Message 1 of 1046 , Feb 8, 2006
      Malawi: Maize Prices Still Rising

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      February 7, 2006
      Posted to the web February 7, 2006

      Johannesburg

      Scarcity of maize coupled with an escalating demand have brought skyrocketing prices to Malawi's two cities, Lilongwe and Blantyre, according to a new consumer survey.

      The situation is expected to improve in April when the first of the winter crops comes onto the market, said Joseph Kuppens, director of the faith-based NGO, Centre For Social Concern (CFSC), which conducted the survey.

      Good rain and a successful government-sponsored fertiliser programme have given drought-hit Malawians the hope that a bumper maize crop of more than two million mt will be harvested, observed a recent UN Food and Agricultural Organisation update.

      The CFSC survey found that the monthly cost of living, including some non-food items, for a family of six in Lilongwe had shot up from $144 in November 2005 to US $185 in January 2006. A year earlier, in January 2005, the same basic needs had cost about $115. "The prices are much higher this year, as more people are in need ... the demand is higher," explained Kuppens.

      Malawi's annual maize requirement is just under two million mt but last year the country experienced one of its worst droughts in a decade and struggled to produce just 1.3 million mt. There is little or no maize to be had from the state grain marketer, ADMARC. "The outlets have continued to ration maize, which has also made it very difficult for people," Kuppens commented.

      The cost of a basket of essential food items in January this year was about $120 - beyond the reach of a clerical officer earning little more than $40 a month or even a teacher getting between $94 and $173 a month, CFSC pointed out.

      At the beginning of the lean season in December, the cost of maize was 30 to 40 kwacha (24 to 32 US cents) per kg. "It is now selling at an average of 50 kwacha (38 US cents) per kg in Lilongwe, which is unaffordable for most people, who have to depend on the government's free food distribution programme," said Kuppens.

      The UN's World Food Programme estimates that up to five million Malawians will need food aid until April. "We have received reports that southern Malawi has already begun harvesting some of their crop, so the situation might improve sooner," noted Kuppens.

      *****

      Subsidized Fertilizer Smuggled Into Zambia

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      February 7, 2006
      Posted to the web February 7, 2006

      Ziggy Kondwani Magombo
      Lilongwe

      The fertilizer subsidy programme which was approved by Parliament to benefit Malawi's subsistence small-scale farmers, as well as to mitigate the effects of food insecurity in the country has turned out to be a lucrative business. Top officials and traders who are purchasing it in bulk at the lower price are smuggling it to Zambia for high profits, The Chronicle has learnt.

      Malawians who obtain their coupons from government stand in long queues day after day with little success of getting the commodity because it is being appropriated by profit minded individuals, The Chronicle has established.

      According to inside sources at the Kanengo Small Holder Farmers Fertilizer Revolving Fund of Malawi (SHFFRFM), high profiled people (names withheld) are buying large stocks of fertilizer from the depot and smuggling the agricultural input into Zambia. "The fertilizer is dispatched from the depots late in the evening or at dawn. Most of the fertilizer is smuggled to Zambia while some is sold right outside the gate at close to 100% profit," said the source, adding that outside the gate a bag of CAN bought at K1,400 is sold at the price of MK2,800, double the subsidised price while Urea, purchased at K950 is sold at MK2,000. "People have to buy it because there is nothing they can do. It's not easy for anyone, except those whose names matter, to buy fertilizer here. So, one by one they drop from the never moving queue and face the profit-hungry traders," said one groceries vendor who claimed he witnesses the transactions taking place every day.

      It is further alleged that last Tuesday the supply of fertilizer came to the depot late in the afternoon and the waiting queue was told to disperse and return the following day (Wednesday). However, Wednesday morning people were told that the fertilizer was out of stock. "We were told that we could not buy fertilizer yesterday because it was late for them to sell it. We understood this because we saw the fertiliser arrive. This morning they are saying it is out of stock. The question is; when did they sell it?" wondered one old woman, visibly desperate to get the farm input.

      The sources said also involved in the racket are some Malawi Defence Force (MDF) staff, who are reportedly purchasing scores of bags, completely bypassing the long queues. The sources added that the soldiers buy the maize on behalf of some individuals upon payment of K500 per bag. "If you came here last week you would have seen it for yourself, how those who challenged the soldiers' advances got beaten up to a point of bleeding," The highly placed source said the fertilizer had all been booked in advance by high profile people who had already paid for it. "There is a stack of one hundred bags in there reserved for some 'Honourable' man," said the source, declining to disclose the name of the said Honourable subject in question. "We don't know the man; we just got the orders to reserve the whole lot for him, whoever it is." There are also allegations that the officials at the depot demand an extra K200 to K500 per bag and that when you get your coupon stamped, you still have to pay K100 extra per bag to the men at the stores for you to get your purchase.

      The SHFFRFM Depot Manager declined to comment on the matter and referred The Chronicle to the Operations Manager, Mr. Chinguwo, who again referred us to SHFFRFM Supervisor, saying the matter can best be handled by him.

      The Supervisor, a Mr. Milanzi, however, said he was the wrong person to contact because he does not supervise the Kanengo Depot. "I think you are talking to the wrong person. I am in Blantyre and I am responsible for the southern region and not Kanengo. So I cannot comment on what is happening in Kanengo," said Milanzi in a telephone interview.

      MDF publicist Col. Clement Namangale, however, declined any knowledge of the Army ordering maize in bulk. He suggested it might be a personal purchase. "It is news to me and I don't have any information about it. If it really happened then it might be an individual that was buying it personally for his farm. Otherwise I have no knowledge about it," said Namangale.

      The fertilizer subsidy programme, mooted by the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) President John Tembo was seen as a means of helping the poor masses obtain affordable farm inputs, was approved by Parliament as one important mechanism of curbing the acute food shortages being experienced in the country. Malawi has always been able to grow sufficient maize to feed itself, a situation that has changed following several years of persistent crop failure.

      *****

      UDF Presidential Hopefuls Cautious

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      February 7, 2006
      Posted to the web February 7, 2006

      Gregory Gondwe
      Lilongwe

      Proposed hopefuls that could steer the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 2009 general elections as presidential candidates have feigned ignorance on the possible proposition of their candidature and have each exercised caution in declaring their interest.

      Two different confidential sources told The Chronicle in a joint interview that party followers are of the view that the party must start selling its presidential candidate from the four names that have been proposed. "The move is important because currently, the UDF does not have government influence as was the case in the last elections," said the sources who are senior UDF national executive members.

      The proposed names are that of Chiradzulu East UDF MP Friday Jumbe, UDF Spokesperson Sam Mpasu, Former National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leader Brown Mpinganjira and the incumbent State Vice-President and UDF acting chair Cassim Chilumpha. The four have said it is too early to start speculating about the UDF succession.

      The Nation newspaper of February 2, last week reported that as many as seven senior members are said to have shown interest in leading the party in the elections.

      Adding to the four that The Chronicle identified, the paper said others include former personal assistant on political affairs to former president Bakili Muluzi Dr. Size Bwanali, former Sports Minister in the UDF government Moses Dossi and UDF Chief Whip in parliament Leonard Mangulama.

      Apparently reports indicate that only Bwanali and Dossi confirmed they would contest the position.

      In separate interviews with The Chronicle Jumbe, Mangulama and Mpasu indicated that the time was not yet ripe to start talking of a UDF presidential candidate.

      Mangulama said people needed to be given enough time on the issue. He was of the view that the people within the UDF have not been given opportunity to discuss the issue. "I do not know where you are getting the information. I only see these debates in the papers and I say hey, people have the right to discuss the issue," he said.

      Mangulama said at the moment he does not have any view on the presidential candidate believing that this is the time rather to concentrate on the party's stability. "This is the time to find possible solutions to ensure that there is stability in the party and that things are moving well," he said insisting that this was the impression he had as the Chief Whip.

      He vehemently dismissed any suggestions that he was harbouring ambitions as one the presidential hopefuls. "No! I am not, at the moment, I don't have any ambitions to fight for the leadership of the party and whoever the party will choose I will be obliged to work under such a leader," he said.

      He said so far none of the people proposed have approached him to ask for his hand in their campaign for presidency.

      Friday Jumbe said he had not been approached by the party to consider being their candidate but said he would consider the proposition if he was asked to. "I would certainly consider it when the right time comes, but it is too early to say whether I would say yes or no," he said. "We are trying to get the right quality of leadership that could represent the party in the 2009 elections. It is a very fluid situation. We will have to wait until we get to 2008 and see the dynamics of politics as it unfolds. It is only then that we can provide the best quality of leadership," he added.

      Sam Mpasu said he does not have any slight idea that his name is being proposed along side other candidates that could take over the UDF mantle. "I think we will cross the bridge when we get to it," he said.

      A week ago, some UDF senior members suggested that the party reintroduce the position of party president, a position that was abolished in favour of a chairperson. The current chair is Bakili Muluzi Mpinganjira, who did not answer his phone when contacted by The Chronicle last week he told Weekend Nation recently that he was not too sure if he would want to be the UDF Presidential candidate in 2009.

      *****

      Ministry to Tackle HIV And Aids 'Head On'

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      February 7, 2006
      Posted to the web February 7, 2006

      Lilongwe

      Ministry of Information and Tourism will vigorously integrate HIV and AIDS activities into its operations to reduce the spread of the disease as well as mitigate its impact among employees whose work performance has declined because of the pandemic.

      Coordinator of HIV and AIDS Mainstreaming Project in the Ministry, Catherine Mashunga, said on Monday that death and absenteeism due to HIV and AIDS related illness was seriously affecting the operations of the Ministry. "The Ministry will promote abstinence, encourage behavioural change and voluntary testing among members of staff,' said Mashunga at Mponela in Dowa at the start of a five day training course for 30 peer educators in the Ministry.

      After the training, the officers, drawn from the Departments of Information, Tourism, National Parks and Wildlife, Information Systems and Technology Management Services will be tasked to teach fellow members of staff on the causes of and spread and prevention of the disease. They will also be responsible for condom distribution, not only among fellow staff members, but also to the Ministry's stakeholders.

      The Ministry is implementing an HIV/AIDS Mainstreaming Project to the tune of K59.9 million, money that has been obtained from the National AIDS Commission (NAC). The main objective of the project is to reduce the incidence of HIV transmission as well as improve the lives of those infected and affected by the disease in the Ministry through, among other interventions, the provision of Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.

      So far, the Ministry has conducted a number of activities including sensitisation on HIV and AIDS for members of staff, their spouses and senior managers, and training of counsellors on Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT).

      The Ministry has over 2,000 employees spread across the five departments including administration and support services staff.

      According to Mashunga, the Ministry has no statistics on staff members who have died of HIV and AIDS related disease.

      *****

      Physically Challenged Students Graduate Despite Prejudice

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      February 7, 2006
      Posted to the web February 7, 2006

      Gregory Gondwe
      Lilongwe

      Twenty-nine physically challenged and sixteen non-handicapped students from Lilongwe Vocational Training graduated in various courses last Wednesday amidst calls from the Malawi Council for the Handicapped (MOCOHA) Chair on government to increase financial assistance.

      Labour and Vocational Training Minister Ken Lipenga lauded the physically challenged graduates saying that they have put to shame the skeptics who view people with disabilities with prejudice. "I will not say the obvious that be brave when you leave here or go out there and work hard because, by just graduating here today you have demonstrated all that already," he said.

      MACOHA Board of Directors Chair, Mzimba's Senior Chief M'mbelwa IV pleaded with the government to increase its budgetary allocations to the institution. "The centre continues to operate below capacity due to insufficient budgetary allocations," said M'mbelwa who also told the congregation what the institution is doing to raise funds on its own.

      He said, in an effort to augment its budget, the centre opened its doors to the non-disabled who are interested to enroll for training at a fee since 2003. "The initiative has so far started off well and is paying dividends. We are optimistic that the number of the non-disabled youths enrolling for training will continue to grow in the subsequent intakes," he said.

      In total, 4 trainees were awarded with certificates and testimonials after completion of a six-month training courses in various trades that included tailoring, agriculture, woodwork, secretarial studies, financial accounting and information technology.

      The centre is run by MACOHA, which was established in 1971 by an Act of Parliament -the Handicapped Persons Act - to implement government policies by providing rehabilitation programmes, services and promoting public interest for the empowerment and integration of persons with disabilities in order to achieve an inclusive society.

      The centre, which to date has trained over 80 youths was opened in March 1989.

      *****

      Charcoal Dependence Levels Reach Record High

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      February 7, 2006
      Posted to the web February 7, 2006

      Charles Chisi
      Lilongwe

      The Consumer Association of Malawi (CAMA) have declared that charcoal dependence levels have reached a record high, a development which they describe as a repercussion from the increase in electricity tariffs.

      Electricity Supply Commission of Malawi (ESCOM) announced a 25% tariff increament in October last year and, to avoid incurring huge bills, consumers have resorted to the unsustainable use of charcoal.

      CAMA Public Relations Officer, Burton Phiri in an interview Wednesday said the increase in charcoal usage is as a result of the increase in electricity tariffs. "We would normally expect this to happen whenever electricity tariffs have risen. But we did advise government when the announcement was made to formulate policies that are environmentally friendly, because we understood that there would be a huge knock on effect on other fuel sources," said Phiri.

      But the development has not gone down well with forestry officials who have described it as a frustration to government's efforts to combat deforestation. "This is a very worrisome development, coming at a time when we are bemoaning the high rate of deforestation in the country. This is a very frustrating revelation and, if left unchecked will be a catastrophe," said the Director of Forestry, Kenneth Nyasulu.

      When asked what his department would do to reduce the trend, Nyasulu said: "We will intensify the seizure of charcoal bags as we normally do as an interim solution and hope that Escom and other stakeholders would rethink how they can make electricity affordable to the ordinary Malawian." Nyasulu, however, advised Malawians to plant more trees to replace those being lost to charcoal production, saying this is one way of reducing the trend.

      A spot check conducted by The Chronicle in some townships in Lilongwe recently showed bags of charcoal selling like hot cakes, at an average price of K450 per bag.

      Ellen Majawa, one of the charcoal consumers in Kawale Township said she finds it a cost-cutting measure to use charcoal rather than electricity. "Electricity is very expensive. I fear that I can incur huge bills, so I resolved to use charcoal because it is still cheaper," she said Currently Malawi has over 50,000 hectares of land that has seen continued deforestation and there are plans afoot to plant over 50 million trees during this tree planting season.

      Charcoal production is an offence under the 1997 Forestry Act which attracts a K20,000 fine but the forestry department said plans are underway to raise it to make it more of a deterrent.

      Despite the law forbidding the production of charcoal in the country, vendors continue to openly display the commodity on the roads - the length and breadth of the nation with forestry officials seemingly unable to put a halt to the trade. Often it is only the purchasers who are penalized while the sellers are deliberately allowed to ply their wares. Part of the problem is that very little has been done by way of providing an alternative means of income for the poor Malawians if the illegal vending was stamped out.

      *****

      ACB Hails Mwawa's Conviction As Government Warns Other Public Servants

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      February 7, 2006
      Posted to the web February 7, 2006

      Arnold Mnelemba And Charles Chisi
      Lilongwe

      The Director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Gustave Kaliwo has said the conviction of former Education Minister, Yusuf Mwawa is a warning shot at other public office holders harbouring ambitions to abuse their positions and misuse public funds.

      Kaliwo was responding to questions from members of the press soon after presentation of a five-hour-long judgement by Senior Resident Magistrate Mzondi Mvula at Lilongwe Magistrates Court on Friday He described the development as a victory in the fight against corruption. "This is a big lesson to those in public office not to abuse public funds. They should know that we are monitoring them closely. As for the ACB this is what we call our victory. It means we are making progress," said Kaliwo The court found Mwawa guilty on all four counts levelled against him namely; Misuse of Public Office (contrary to section 25(b)(1) of the Corrupt Practices Act), Theft by Public Servant (contrary to section 283(1) of the penal code), Forgery (contrary to section 357) and finally Uttering a False Document (contrary to section 360 as read with section 358 of the penal code).

      Mvula reserved his sentence to Thursday, February 9, 2006 following an application by Mwawa to reinstitute the K160,550 alleged to have been withdrawn from the Ministry of Education Special Client Account for his wedding in March last year.

      In view of the conviction, the presiding magistrate immediately revoked Mwawa's bail bond forcing his wife and some relatives who had come to attend the judgement to burst into tears.

      Yusuf Mwawa, who is also Member of Parliament for Balaka Central East automatically loses his seat and stands barred to contest future elections until the expiry of seven years.

      In a related development, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development George Chaponda has warned all United Democratic Front (UDF) former cabinet ministers who dipped their fingers into the government till through the Malawi Social Action Fund (MASAF) 1 and 2 projects that they must get ready to face the long arm of the law following the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between MASAF and the Anti-Corruption Bureau that aims at curbing fraud and corruption in the implementation of MASAF projects.

      Chaponda said it is the wish of President Bingu wa Mutharika and his cabinet to see that whoever misappropriated public resources is brought to book as a way of promoting and accelerating good governance and transparency in an effort to win donor confidence.

      He went on to say that for 41 years Malawians have been in extreme poverty due to greedy people whom he said abused public funds intended to address problems faced by the poor. "We would like to assure people in the country that the aim of this government and the aim of this ministry is to ensure that the service delivery is translated into benefit of the common man. It is sad to say, because of the corrupt practices of the past, the money which was intended to benefit the poor has not benefited the poor." "We have looked at some schools built under MASAF 1 and 2 and some of them have not lived up to what they are supposed to be. We have seen markets that have collapsed after the funds have been distributed because of corrupt practices." "We have seen how officers have used the money to their personal gain or perhaps they have used their own contractors in disguise and have pocketed the bulk of the money. The result is that the common man has suffered. This is why I say, wherever these people may be, they should know that the law is against them and as the president has said, the fight against corruption is not over," said Chaponda.

      However, ACB Director Gustave Kaliwo during the signing of the MOU stated that the signing of the document is not targeted at special groups of people or individuals but is in line with government's stand in the fight against corruption. "The State President has, on several occasions reiterated, and I quote: 'Corruption retards development, retards economic growth and undermines programmes designed specifically to benefit the poor. If we are to achieve our goals of poverty reduction, corruption must be eliminated,' end of quote. The ACB shares the president's concerns," said Kaliwo.

      Kaliwo went on to say: "I am aware that fears that have been expressed in certain quarters that this coming together of MASAF and the Bureau is meant to victimise certain individuals or a section of people. This agreement is not targeted at any specific individual or group of people, it is targeted at corruption." "The conviction of Yusuf Mwawa sends a clear signal to public and other servants that the president's "Zero Tolerance on Corruption" has found resonance in the people and sets a clear signal that the law, which has previously been largely ignored is able to take to task even the highest official," said an observer at the court.

      Many who listened to the judge's rendering were surprised at the finality of the law, a thing that tendered to be ignored in the past.

      *****

      Kupimbira: A Traditional Culture Steeped in Secrecy

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      February 7, 2006
      Posted to the web February 7, 2006

      Ziggy Kondwani Magombo
      Lilongwe

      Kupimbira is a custom where young girls are married off (by force) to often older, rich men in settlement of debts or for financial gain. The traditional custom that has been in practice for aeons is believed to still be evident in Wiriro area, Group V/Headman Mwenichilanga, T/A Kyungu, in the Karonga district.

      Masozi (not real name) was married off in 2001 at the age of ten. Her parents forced her to marry a seventy-year old rich widower for six head of cattle. The parents wanted part of the herd to pay for the bride price (lobola) for Masozi's older brother who had found a wife.

      There was nothing the little girl could do and she had no choice in the matter but to comply with her parent's arrangement.

      The child bride, in terrible fear, unwillingly bade farewell to her fellow standard five pupils at Wiriro Primary School. She was totally ignorant about what lay ahead for her. The young, immature and innocent girl walked into the callous hands and bed of the old man.

      In the name of culture, respect for the authority of parents and for the sake of her brother's marriage, Masozi, a scared little girl had to confront a situation befitting a woman twice her age. She had to become the wife to a man old enough be her grandfather.

      Concerned with the practice, Ndanga Youth Group in Karonga alerted the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) who instigated an investigation into the practice. They have since compiled a full report of their findings. "The tradition is like a secret cult and as such, not many people are free to talk about it or tell the truth about the existence of the practice," explains the MHRC report. It adds that despite this, some people, mainly those who see the practice as evil feel free to talk about the practice.

      The MHRC report reveals that two girls, approximately 16 at the time of the interview being carried out already had two of their own children, a boy and a girl aged three and one.

      According to the report, Silvia Mwanjasi, Nurse/Midwife in-charge of the Wiriro Health Centre said such practice does not only expose the girls to HIV/AIDS but also increase the prevalence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

      She said the practice subjects the girls to reproductive complications that may lead to life-long deformities. "Cases of young girls who are primi-gravidas (getting pregnant for the first time) at the health centre are very common. We refer most of such cases to Karonga District Hospital where they have the required equipment in case of any complications. "However, due to the fact that the bodies of these young girls are not sufficiently developed, most of them end up having an episiotomy (enlargement of the vaginal opening by cutting the perineum) to facilitate normal delivery," Mwanjasi told the MHRC team.

      The practice has been identified as contributing to the increase in the dropout rate of girls in schools within the area. "The girl's dropout rate at Wiriro Primary School is very high," explains Chiona, a teacher at the school, adding: "Once the girls drop out, the next thing we hear about them is that they are married." An alleged culprit of the custom of Kupimbira is a seventy-five year old man (name withheld) who, because of his riches has three wives, says the report.

      He has 14 head of cattle that put him in the "rich people" category in the area. According to the MHRC report, the second wife has seven children and she her looks are stunted. "It is very clear that the girl was very young when she got married.

      Looking at her, one could tell that she has had stunted growth which could be attributed to entering into the childbearing category at a tender age and also at the absence of the use of child spacing practices. "When the team asked the first and last wives about the number of children each one of them had they said the first had 11, the second 7 and the third 5," says the report.

      The Commission further explains in its report that Village Headmen Sinyiza and Kayerekera of the area feigned ignorance on the presence of the practice in their villages.

      The people in Wiriro area are, however, not ignorant to the evils of practicing Kupimbira which has lead to most people remaining silent or feigned ignorance when confronted by the MHRC team.

      In its analysis, the Commission surmised that the denial by the Village Headmen could mean that they realize that the tradition is unacceptable but that they are protecting it, since it serves a purpose in their relatively poor community.

      "The revelation also testifies that the tradition is there but it is guarded," reads the analysis in part. Presenting the report to the media, Commissioner Ollen Mwabulunju of the MHRC said Kupimbira is a practice that undermines the children's right to good health; education; and life, among other things.

      Mwalubunju further noted that the practice contravenes the child's constitutional rights as stated in sections 22(4); 22(8); and 23(4) of the Constitution of Malawi which says: "no person shall be forced to enter into marriage", and that "children are entitled to be protected from economic exploitation or any treatment, work or punishment that is, or likely to:- a) be hazardous b) interfere with their education or c) be harmful to their health or to their physical, mental or spiritual or social development. "It is such provisions in the constitution, plus section 22(8) that clearly states that; "the state shall actually discourage marriage between persons where either of them is under the age of fifteen years, that the Commission was competent to institute investigations into the allegations to establish the truth and make necessary recommendations," the Commissioner said.

      He further blamed the law of the land for loopholes, which he said, make it difficult to put a specific crime to charge in cases like that of Masozi's plight. Mwalubunju recommended intensified civic education in the Wiriro area as the only means of curbing the unacceptable practice.
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006

        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17

        The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.

        China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.

        Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.

        The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.

        "They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.

        The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.

        But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.

        The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.

        This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.

        Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.

        According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.

        President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.

        The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.

        Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.

        The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.

        The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.

        *****

        Chihana operated on

        by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31

        Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.

        Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.

        Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.

        Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.

        "Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.

        Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.

        Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.

        "The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.

        He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

        Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.

        *****

        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

        by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13

        A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.

        Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.

        "My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."

        But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.

        "I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.

        MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.

        MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."

        MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.

        "If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.

        The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.

        "It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.

        On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.

        Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.

        "There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.

        But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.

        "One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.

        The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

        The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.

        *****

        Mussa hails new driving licence

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52

        Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.

        Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.

        The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.

        "With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.

        Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.

        Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.

        Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.

        *****

        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

        by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46

        The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.

        UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.

        "Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.

        Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.

        "We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.

        But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).

        "They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.

        Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.

        "They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.

        Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.

        *****

        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu

         

        MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.

        The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.

        Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.

        A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.

        Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.

        "A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.

        "The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.

        The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.

        He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.

        "Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.

        Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.

        Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.

        Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.

        They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.

        According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.

        Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

        The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.

         

        *****

        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

        Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.

        The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.

        Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.

        "I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.

        Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.

        Opposition protests

        Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.

        A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.

        Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.

        Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.

        "This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.

        He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."

        Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.

        Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.

        Crackdown

        In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.

        The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.

        However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.

        Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.

        Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.

        The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.

        Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.

        The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.

        But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.

        The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.

        Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline

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