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  • Christine Chumbler
    Some MPs paid without attending Parliament by Edwin Nyirongo, 27 April 2006 - 06:33:46 Some Members of Parliament are getting their full allowances even if
    Message 1 of 1046 , Apr 27, 2006
      Some MPs paid without attending Parliament
      by Edwin Nyirongo, 27 April 2006 - 06:33:46
      Some Members of Parliament are getting their full allowances even if they do not report for work, The Nation has learnt.
      The Society of Accountants in Malawi (Socam) has meanwhile described the habit as "irresponsible" and called for the culprits to refund the money.
      Sources at Parliament disclosed that many MPs can afford not to attend deliberations because they get their allowances in advance and that even if they go home, no one tracks them to justify their absence.
      "They know that the money is given well in advance and into their accounts. That is why they do not care reporting for Parliament even without the approval of the Speaker," said the source.
      He cited the case of Aford President Chakufwa Chihana, Clement Stambuli and Lucius Banda (both UDF) as some MPs who have attended Parliament for less than five days for the four weeks the House has been in session.
      "The problem is that there is no register to detect who has come and who has not, which the honourable members take advantage of," said the MP.
      Speaker Louis Chimango admitted that some MPs do not attend Parliament even though they get allowances. He said he was already working on it.
      "Indeed some MPs just get allowances without coming to Parliament. Others come a week later but they get the whole amount. This is something we have been working on even before you asked and soon things would be alright,' said Chimango.
      But the Speaker said some MPs tell him why they do not attend the sessions like going out of the country.
      He said some MPs go to their constituencies to attend to other pressing issues and that they leave their belongings in the hotels which they still pay for.
      On Chihana, he said he did not know anything until Wednesday when MP for Mzimba West Loveness Gondwe told him that the Rumphi Central MP was sick.
      "Honestly speaking, I did not know what was the problem with Hon. Chihana till yesterday when Hon. Loveness Gondwe told me that he was sick. But I was supposed to be told earlier," he said.
      On Stambuli and Banda, Chimango said they were outside the country on official duties. He could not say why they were getting the parliamentary allowances when they got other allowances for the official trips outside, saying he needed to crosscheck the issue.
      Chimango also said Parliament is normally supposed to check who has reported for duty or not, but said laxity among those supposed to do the job is the problem.
      Socam Executive Director Henox Mazengera said the MPs are supposed to get allowances only when they attend Parliament and that measures should be taken for those who get the money without attending the sessions to pay back.
      "It is very irresponsible for the honourable members or anybody to get...allowances which they have not worked for. One can understand for a salary because you might have been busy or sick but not for allowances. Suppose you wanted to go to the field and you find that you are sick; do you still draw the allowances? Definitely not," he said.
      Mazengera supported the idea of depositing the allowances to their accounts saying it reduces work log.
      He, however, said a mechanism should be put in place so that those who do not report for Parliament are deducted their money from the next payment.
      MPs get K8,000 as daily subsistence allowance and a weekly sum is deposited to their accounts before the sitting.


      Malawi produces more children
      by George Ntonya, 27 April 2006 - 07:27:36
      A demographic and health survey (DHS) has revealed that Malawian women are giving more births than their colleagues in southern African.
      According to a report Economic Planning and Development Minister David Faiti launched on Wednesday in Lilongwe, a Malawian woman has six children on average although most respondents in the survey indicated four is the desired number.
      The report shows a much lower total fertility rate in South Africa at 2.9 percent, followed by Lesotho and Zimbabwe with 3.5 and 4 percent, respectively. Malawi leads with over 6 percent.
      In his presentation after the launch of the report, James Kaphuka from the University of Malawi said although Malawi's total fertility rate has been declining, the situation is still bad.
      He said that 40 percent of the births are either unplanned or unwanted and more than one in three women between the ages of 15*19 are already mothers or pregnant with their first child.
      "About 34 percent of the births occur among the teenagers," he added.
      The report indicates that the country's total fertility rate declined from 6.7 percent, as revealed in a 1992 demographic and health survey, to 6.3 percent eight years later.
      In her presentation, deputy director of clinical services responsible for reproductive health in the Ministry of Health Jane Namasasu said although a majority of Malawian women are aware of the different methods of contraception, their knowledge does not translate into usage of the contraceptives.
      The report indicates that 33 percent of the women use different methods of family planning with injectables as the most preferred method followed by sterilisation.
      The report also indicates that HIV, the virus that causes Aids, is more prevalent among highly educated and economically empowered people, compared to the illiterate and the poor. It puts the national prevalence rate at 12 percent.
      The survey was conducted by the National Statistical Office (NSO) with funding from National Aids Commission (Nac), the US Agency for International Development (Usaid), the British Department for International Development (Dfid) and other development partners.
      Deric Zanera from NSO said that the survey also focused on domestic violence, fertility and maternal health, child health and HIV. About 13,000 people were interviewed nationally.


      MPs from the North on ganyu, *Gondwe
      by Edwin Nyirongo, 27 April 2006 - 06:35:05
      MP for Mzimba West Loveness Gondwe on Tuesday angered some parliamentarians from the Northern Region when she described them as aganyu (part-time employees) for government.
      In retaliation, MP for Mzimba Hora Henry Mumba described Gondwe as "a mad woman" who opposes everything government does.
      Gondwe on Wednesday said she called the MPs aganyu because of the way they behaved when she was responding to a supplementary budget presented by Finance minister Goodall Gondwe last Friday.
      "I was delivering my response to the supplementary budget delivered by the Finance Minister and all members were quiet except my fellow northerners who were shouting. That is why I said they were doing ganyu for government," she said.
      The MP explained that when the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) were contributing in Parliament, MPs from the North were quiet. She questioned why they were shouting at her, is it because she is a northerner? She asked.
      Gondwe explained that there were a lot of issues on which MPs from the North should have come together and fight for instead of wasting time castigating one another.
      "When the issue of the Karonga-Chitipa Road was raised, they were very quiet and, surprisingly, some of them are very educated who could understand the importance of fighting for a cause," she said.
      But Mumba, who is Deputy Agriculture Minister, had no kind words for Gondwe.
      "She is mad. You see, she always disagrees with everything government does whether good or bad. Even UDF and MCP sometimes applaud where they feel government has done something right but Gondwe cannot do that," he said.
      Mumba said she suspects Gondwe is behaving like that because her husband lost a parliamentary seat to the Finance Minister.
      MP for Nkhata Bay West Rodrick Kavuta said he was angered by Gondwe's remarks.
      Kavuta said everyone was concerned with the delay of the construction of the Karonga-Chitipa Road but said there were procedures that are followed to raise the concern.
      Mzimba Central MP Bitwell Kawonga said Gondwe's remarks showed that she was "a frustrated lady" who was only trying to vent her anger on innocent people.
      Kawonga said Gondwe is also doing ganyu to the UDF which her party, Aford, is in an alliance with.
      But Chizamsoka Mulwafu from Chitipa East agreed with Gondwe that MPs from the North are not doing enough collectively to fight for development in the region.
      "If you look at the behaviour of some of the MPs, mostly those that have been given ministerial positions, you will see that not much is being done to fight for development in the North," he said.
      Gondwe is one of the only two MPs that have remained loyal to Aford. The other one is party president Chakufwa Chihana.


      Muluzi undergoes another operation
      by Mabvuto Banda, 27 April 2006 - 06:37:32
      Former president Bakili Muluzi on Monday underwent another operation to remove suspected growth on his spine, Nation has learnt
      But his spokesperson Sam Mpasu on Wednesday insisted that Muluzi just started intensive physiotherapy to straighten up his back but not an operation.
      "It was not an operation, but rather he has started an intensive regiment of physiotherapy which if not done properly could mean he will not be able to straighten up his back," Mpasu said.
      Atupele, his son, also said that the former President has started an intensive physiotherapy.
      "He is keen to come back home and he has started it so that he returns as soon as possible," Atupele, who is also UDF MP said.
      But sources very close to Muluzi said the former president had a minor operation after excessive growth was discovered on bones on his spine.
      "The doctors noticed another growth on the bones they operated on earlier and advised for another minor procedure which was done on Monday*Dr [George] Mtafu as his local doctor was supposed to be in London but failed because of other reasons," said the source.
      But yesterday, Mtafu could not comment when asked about the trip and Muluzi's health.
      Muluzi had a major operation on his spine in January in a London hospital and was expected to spend three months recuperating before coming back home.
      Minister of Health Hetherwick Ntaba said he knew of no new development on the former president's health but has only heard unofficially about his operation.
      "I am not aware about this operation. I only heard about it last week before anything was done," Ntaba said.
      Explaining the possible condition Muluzi may be in, a government medical authority, who asked for anonymity, said that it is very possible to experience excessive growth on a bone operated on.
      "Presumably, when you operate on tissue, there is sometimes excessive tissue growth on the scar tissue which is called keloid. A similar thing even takes place when you operate on the bone, a little bit of an excessive bone growing out which may end up pressing the same disks meaning there is excessive scar tissue," said the doctor.


      Malawi's football-shaped home
      A Dutch architect took the BBC's Aubrey Sumbuleta on a tour of his football-shaped house where he lives in Malawi's commercial capital, Blantyre, with his Malawian wife.

      Until about five years ago, Jan Sonkie was just an ordinary Dutch national operating in Malawi but now, everybody talks about him.

      He has constructed a unique house in the shape of a football.

      Standing on a three-metre high brick wall, Sonkie's house has become a tourist attraction, as many do not believe that human beings stay in the house.

      Drinking den?

      "Many people thought this was a drinking den and that we were sleeping in the normal houses on the other side of the fence," says Thokozani Sonkie, Jan's Malawian wife.

      She says a lot of people including women normally come around to take a look at the house.

      "They want to take a look at my kitchen and bedroom because they don't believe a house of this shape can have these things inside," she says adding, "after taking a look, those with cameras take pictures of the house."

      Something different

      Why construct a football house?

      Jan Sonkie an architect by profession says he wanted to do something different from the rest of the buildings in Malawi.

      "After having a good think, I settled for a football-shaped house because of the plot that I was allocated," he says.

      Sonkie says the four-storey house that has at least a room on each floor is warm during winter and cold during summer because of its building specifications.

      "The outside is all metal and the inside all wooden hence the self control of the weather."


      What do people say about his idea?

      Sonkie says that a lot of people could not believe him when he hatched plans to construct the football house.

      "Maybe I am crazy but I have a passion for football, although my busy construction schedule does not allow me sometimes to follow the game."

      Sonkie says he decided to build his unique house in Malawi because he just likes Africa and would like to say on the continent forever.

      The Sonkies stay alone in the house. They don't have children and so the rest of the rooms are left for visitors.

      Pictures here http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4946416.stm
    • 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.


        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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