The Tonse Alliance agreement made in 2019
* To truly respond to the Cry of the Poor requires bold and viable public policy actions
* Such public policy actions are being prevented and undermined by the vice of corruption
* Defective service delivery systems, inconsistent government austerity measures
* Bleak picture of the oncoming crop growing season, and the Tonse Alliance retrogressive way of governing
By Duncan Mlanjira
“The cry of the poor gets louder and louder in Malawi each day,” says Malawi’s Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Letter released on Monday by the Bishops’ Episcopal Conference of Malawi — entitled ‘A Call to Hearken to the Cry of Poor Malawians’.
“This cry is caused by, among other things, the worsening general inflation with biting food price increases, rising youth unemployment, rising school fees, inadequate medical services, the fuel crisis driving up transport costs, exploitation by unscrupulous traders and business people, foreign exchange shortages, and lack of effective consumer protection.”
“To truly respond to the Cry of the Poor requires bold and viable public policy actions. Such public policy actions are being prevented and undermined by the vice of corruption, defective service delivery systems, inconsistent government austerity measures, bleak picture of the oncoming crop growing season, and the Tonse Alliance retrogressive way of governing.”
The Statement stresses that the Bishops are “in solidarity with the vast majority of Malawians who are languishing in deeper and deeper poverty — thus the Catholic Church, raising its voice with and on behalf of the poor and quotes Proverb 31: 8-9, that says: ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy’.
“Malawians voted and ushered in a new Government. Malawians have regrettably observed that its way of governing is characterized by internal bickering, jostling for political clout, cronyism, nepotism, focusing on narrow selfish political interests and disjointed stances on public policy by alliance partners.
“The situation is a serious cause for worry as it undermines meaningful development which would enhance the lives of people, especially the poor in Malawi.
“Malawians are tired of politicians who keep fighting for political power before, during, after and in between elections without regard to the development needs of the electorate. We call upon the Tonse Alliance partners as national leaders to collectively guide the people to the attainment of a better Malawi for all.”
The Bishops also criticised Tonse Alliance for not adhering to its own austerity measures, saying a “listening government truly in touch with people behaves in a fashion that is sensitive to the prevailing socio-economic realities”.
“It was in this spirit that we welcomed the Government’s expenditure control measures introduced mid this year as a necessary response to these realities. However, observation on what is happening on the ground lead Malawians to pose more and more disturbing questions;
* Isn’t the practice of the national political leadership and some key government officials plainly deviating from the so-called austerity measures?
* Is what we see happening a total show of hypocrisy? Isn’t the leadership of the country supposed to be exemplary on the expenditure control measures?
* Why are the leaders contradicting themselves and engaging and undertaking what Malawians perceive as unnecessary internal and external travels, and in some cases, with large entourages?
* Isn’t this acting in contradiction with their stated policy?
* Were the so-called austerity measures instituted in good faith and in pursuit of the common good?
This inconsistency in observing austerity measures has also been critisized by civil society organizations such as Consumer Association of Malawi (CAMA), Forum for National Development (FND) and several others, when President Lazarus Chakwera travelled to the US for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
It was reported — but not officially confirmed that over US$21,000 was being spent on allowances per day for Chakwera delegation of 37 people, who were receiving US$560 (about K580,000) each per day in allowances with ministers receiving US$900 (nearly K1 million) per day for 24 days.
The reports said normally, many members of Chakwera’s delegation were supposed to receive US$280 (about K290,000) per day and ministers were required to receive US$450 (about K465,000) per day but the allowances were doubled because of a rise in cost of living in New York.
Several critics — including former President Peter Mutharika — had condemned the government from undertaking the trip to UNGA in the middle of an economic crisis in Malawi.
Before the trip, CAMA Executive Director, John Kapito argued that Chakwera did not need to travel to the UNGA “at a time the economy is performing badly”, saying he was expected “to make good choices and judgment for the good of the people”.
“The choice of the President at this difficult time to go to New York with a huge number of party sympathizers when the country has no forex reserves, has no fuel, has no electricity and has no maize [and that] the high cost of living is hurting Malawians shows the lack of understanding and sensitivity of the pain that consumers are going through.
“The President must understand the implications of any economic decisions that he makes and how such a decision impacts the economy and the poor people.
“How does the President expect both the multilateral or bilateral donors to extend any assistance to the country with such poor economic leadership and it is not surprising that both the IMF and other donors are unwilling to provide any financial support to Malawi.”
The Bishops join these voices on discrepancies on austerity calling upon the Government to consider the “disturbing questions” which they have raised “and the right of Malawians to receive sober and informed answers from their leaders in such matters”.
They make the following recommendations that calls for urgent action:
a. That all duty bearers in the fight against corruption systematically collaborate to combat this destructive social ill;
b. That the President and Government ensure that the Public Sector Review Systems Taskforce’s report be made public and acted upon without further delay;
c. That national leadership institute and enforce standard measures in basic service provision as one way of assessing public bodies under the Public Sector Reform Programme;
d. That the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) should demonstrate by example the enforcement of government austerity measures and ensure the implementation of the public sector reforms;
e. That there be urgent social protection measures to cushion the sufferings of the poor and effective safeguards to protect consumers from an often hostile and exploitative commodity market;
f. That the Government institute workable corrective mechanisms to reduce the effects of the unstable macroeconomic environment;
g. That the Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, should ensure that the 2022/23 AIP is properly and fairly implemented;
h. That the Government immediately creatively addresses the looming problem of food security;
i. That Tonse Alliance partners desist from worthless and needless politicking focusing attention on 2025 General elections and instead focus their attention on governing Malawi in a way motivated by fairness for all and true development of the country; and
j. That Malawians see to it that they exercise their right to participate in the affairs of their country by among other things constructively engaging and holding their government to account.