President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera has looked back in 2023 with a sombre mood, saying the country was hit by numerous challenges including disasters and economic problems which pushed the cost of living high up for ordinary Malawians.
Chakwera said this when he addressed the nation just hours before the New Year on Monday.
“In the first quarter of the year, we overcame a cholera outbreak, a drought, and the worst cyclone in our nation’s history.
We overcame these challenges by uniting our resources and efforts to rescue and serve the most vulnerable and by refusing to point fingers at each other for disasters that were not the doing of any us,” he said.
He also said last year, there was serious anomaly in the governance set up, when the Office of the President and Cabinet, the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Directorate of Public Prosecution, the Malawi Police Service, the Malawi Law Society, which all exist to work together in serving the interests of Malawians, were engaged in what he described as a feud of egos that was taking our nation’s development nowhere.
“We overcame this challenge by bringing the feuding parties together and reminding them of their oaths and insisting that their public offices must only be used to advance the interests of Malawians, and never be surrendered to the undue influence of people who seek to politicize and weaponize public institutions that are meant to function without any political influence,” he said.
He also said last year the government overcame the challenge of renegotiating the mountain of unsustainable debt that his administration inherited from the previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration.
He said the debt was draining our forex, restricting the government ability to invest in critical improvements in public service delivery, and enriching domestic lenders whom he said were cashing in huge profits at the expense of taxpayers whose incomes were losing purchasing power by the day.
“We overcame this challenge by renegotiating Malawi’s debt with Afreximbank during my visit to Ghana, renegotiating Malawi’s debt with China during my meeting with the Vice-President of Chinain Changsha and my meeting with the President of China in Johannesburg.
“Additionally, we overcame the challenge of limited resources caused by our debt repayments by raising over half a billion dollars at the Malawi Partners Conference that I hosted in New York, resources that will go a long way in funding our efforts to reconstruct the communities and infrastructure destroyed by Freddy,” he said.
Chakwera also said his administration overcame the challenge of electricity blackouts last year.
He said the government fully restored the Kapichira Power Station that had been damaged by Tropical Storms Ana and Gombe last year, saying now for the first time in recent memory, Egenco is producing more power than there is demand.
Chakwera said the country faced the challenge of hunger last year which he said threatened the lives of millions of Malawians who lost their food crops in the drought and cyclone that came in the first quarter.
“We are presently overcoming this challenge by scaling up the cash transfer social protection support that we provide, so that we are now reaching seven million Malawians in the most vulnerable households.
“We are also overcoming this challenge by investing over 30 billion kwacha in the purchase of maize and stocking up Admarc warehouses with the same so that there is access to affordable maize to those of you who are anxious about your family’s food security,” he said.
He said the second challenge the government is overcoming is also related to food security, which is the availability of affordable farm inputs like fertilizers to farmers so that they can grow their own food and have food sufficiency in 2024.
He said despite disruptions to the Affordable Inputs Programme caused by procurement inefficiencies, forex shortages, and several sharp rises in prices triggered by the war in Eastern Europe and the recent devaluation of the kwacha, the government has delivered fertilizers to over 75% of those who qualify, and the government is fast-tracking delivery to the rest.
He also commented on my the 44 per cent devaluation of the Kwacha last year.
“As you know, in this final quarter, we have also faced the challenge of sharp and sudden price increases triggered by the devaluation of the Kwacha, whose rate of exchange to the dollar was being artificially propped up by policies that were not backed by investments in productivity.
“We overcame this by successfully securing an Extended Credit Facility with the International Monetary Fund, which has not only injected forex into our economy to ease cross-border trade and economic activity, but has also been a catalyst for our implementation of reforms in public finance management that are now attracting foreign direct investments to boost productivity in the Agriculture, Tourism, and Mining sectors in line with our ATM Strategy,” he said.
He said the reforms the government has implemented have also restored confidence among development partners, resulting in the return of direct budget support from them for the first
time in a decade, saying this is a signal to the world that macroeconomic stability is returning to Malawi and Malawi is open for business and investment.
Chakwera said last year the government launched the second edition of the Agricultural Commercialization Project (Agcom), with an injection of over 500 billion kwacha into commercial and mega farms, some of which will go into new mega farms for the production of four varieties of wheat that can grow in every district of Malawi and for which government has already identified markets.
He said the mega farms that are springing up all over the country are going to be a game changer in the years ahead, creating new wealth that will make the cost of living affordable for many Malawians.
Chakwera said the government also addressed this challenge of high cost of living head on by taking steps to cushion Malawians from price sharks, including redoing and repassing the national budget during the recent sitting of Parliament so that it speaks to the needs of citizens; implementing a reasonable and affordable increase in wages for civil servants; ordering a freeze on the price of piped water to all affected households; enforcing consumer protection laws against predators who seek to raise prices in ways that violate consumer rights; and ordering a ban on all tax-funded foreign travel for all Government officials unless approved by my office until the end of March, as well as a 50% cut in fuel allocation for all Government officials.
He said after years of neglect and resistance, the railway system of Malawi is being restored, an investment that will significantly cut the cost of moving goods to market in the future.
On governance, Chakwera said the government has completed the exercise of cleaning up a sewage of bad and poorly negotiated contracts in the energy and mining sectors.
“We are enforcing the most progress land law in our region to end decades of land hoarding and give land to real investors who will add value to the same; and we have shut down the useless and wasteful operations of Power Market Limited, and so these sectors are now poised for revenue generation in the years ahead,” he said.
He also said against much opposition, the government has restored sanity, fairness, and accountability to the NGO Sector, and engaged partners in supporting government efforts to continue serving refugees, all without undermining our commitment to the rule of law.
Chakwera said his administration last year established the Financial Crimes Court, the National Intelligence Services Complaints Tribunal, the Malawi Peace and Unity Commission, and the Presidential Private Sector Council, which he said are you all geared towards strengthening the institutional framework needed to deliver on the aspirations of Malawians in the year ahead.
He described 2024 as the year for pushing.
“Because now that we have put the institutional framework in order, 2024 is the year for pushing for the completion of current projects and the start of new ones.
“Now that we have investors and donors coming back, 2024 is the year for pushing ourselves to produce, produce, and produce.
“Now that we have indications that El Nino weather is coming our way, 2024 is the year for pushing for the use of our farms to grow legumes that will thrive in and survive in those
conditions instead of crops that will not.
“Now that we have austerity measures in place to maximize and leverage our limited resources on the most productive activities, 2024 is the year for pushing every wasteful part of government out of our way, because whether that means pushing out people that are simply wasting time in government offices or wasting government money intended for serving Malawians, we must do so without apology,” he said.
Chakwera asked for people’s support to achieve those goals.