NyaLonje, under fire
* In Malawi, most people go to school to memorize what they learn for examination purposes only
* It’s not only her, we have top government officials who are ignorant of the system — yet they are running the same system
By Duncan Mlanjira
A video clip from a press conference last month ahead of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has gone viral which highlights Minister of Education, Agnes NyaLonje demonstrated her lack of knowledge on forex externalization.
She had claimed at the public media forum that government officials do not spend in United States dollars when they travel, they only use a Visa card, without realising that such a card is loaded with forex to be withdrawn at ATM in the countries they go to.
Present at the press briefing were Ministers of Foreign Affairs Nancy Tembo and of Information Gospel Kazako, who looked perturbed when NyaLonje emphasised that Malawi travellers “do not carry cash”, saying that does not mean “externalizing the US dollars”.
She further claimed that they do not take out forex from government’s reserves, saying: “When I travel, I only use the card, when I withdraw money, it comes out of the kwacha account without me carrying any US dollar note.”
One commentator on social media said: “I’m not an economist but this explanation is shallow thinking. The bank will still have to remit forex to wherever you spent. You can’t change a foreign bank for dollars by giving ING the kwachas.
In response, Gilbert Ilimu said he has traveled to the US for three times and has used the Visa cards at ATM that dispenses US dollars, but the bank that offers the service debits the forex from Malawi’s Central Bank’s account.
“She is just only lacks experience on forex,” he said. “When you have that card it is always full of money that you paid in kwacha at the bank in Malawi.
“Traveling is very good education. Even the first former President, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda used to tell Malawians that traveling is really very good education and always used to travel with some women (Mbumba) of his MCP.
“And some Mbumba even never went to school but they became educated because of their traveling — to Britain or America. When you are in the government is a gift from God. And it is good and important to play clean politics in the country.”
Sydney Jimulonde was just blunt by saying: “In Malawi, most people go to school to memorize what they learn for examination purposes only — she is one of them”, while Kingsley Pendame commented that it’s not only her, but many top government officials, “who are ignorant of the system yet they are running the same system – shame!”
Daniel Undani also did not mince words, saying it’s time Nyalonje was removed as Education Minister — alleging that she has made several blunders that include influencing the firing of Chiunda as executive director of Malawi Examination Board (MANEB) by accusing him of being the one who had leaked Malawi Schools Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations in 2020.
Chiunda has since been cleared by the courts of the allegations.
In his comment, social commentator Onjezani Kenani censured NyaLonje, saying when a person who is abroad uses their local card to pay for anything, the traveller’s bank sent the required forex and that way forex is externalized.
On Twitter, journalist Jack McBrams also blasted Nyalonje, saying: “I always thought she was one of the smartest in President Lazarus Chakwera’s inept cabinet, but the ignorance displayed here by NyaLonje is purely criminal.”
Another Twitter user said: “Is she listening to herself? The level of garbage coming from a whole minister is absolutely amazing! Can someone at Ministry of Education educate this woman about forex transactions?”
NyaLonje was among the ministers who travelled with Chakwera for the UNGA, where it is reported — but not officially confirmed that over US$21,000 was being spent on allowances per day for the delegation.
Reports are that each delegate was receiving US$560 (about K580,000) per day in allowances with ministers receiving US$900 (nearly K1 million) per day for 24 days.
Chakwera travelled with 37 people and 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, Consumer Association of Malawi (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.”
Kapito goes further to attack the trip to New York, saying: “When did UNGA become a source or platform of raising money for the country when all representatives of donor agencies are based in Lilongwe? Why should the President then travel all the way to New York.”
However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs countered with a statement, saying Chakwera — apart of addressing the UNGA — was also expected to hold 40 other engagements that include high-level meetings with world leaders and heads of various international institutions — “all geared towards mobilizing over a billion US dollars in resources for various sectors in Malawi”.
The Ministry also emphasized that this was to be the first UNGA that Chakwera was to attend physically since he ascended to power in 2020 amidst COVID-19 pandemic, having participated in previous two meetings virtually.
But Kapito contended that Chakwera should have stayed home to stamp his leadership and find solutions to stop the long queues for fuel, scarcity of forex, power load shedding and the high cost of living.
Forum for National Development (FND) national coordinator, Fryson Chodzi also penned the President to stay in office to solve the country’s economic crisis rather that travel to the UNGA, saying the trip coincided with government’s tough and strict austerity measures which government ministries, agencies and departments have to follow which included restriction on foreign trips.
He also highlighted the devaluation the national currency by 25% as a result of sharp shrinking of foreign currency reserves due and thus Chakwera should have considered cancelling the US trip to save the millions of forex, “which can alternatively be used to import drugs; salvaging the Ministry of Agriculture to facilitate importation of much needed fertilizer.
He had also maintained that money saved could demonstrate Chakwera’s “true will of servant leadership and setting a tone against wastefulness and complying to your own order of strict adherence to austerity measures”.