Malawi's top dog under fire

The Malawi Council of Churches has threatened to enter the country’s National Assembly draped in gowns to protest against opposition moves to impeach President Bingu wa Mutharika and to press politicians to focus on “problems besetting the people”.

It is estimated that up to 4,2-million Malawi citizens, of a population of 12-million, face serious food shortages. Already health officials have warned of an increase in hunger-related deaths and it is feared that the number could reach hundreds by the end of the year.

Mutharika took office in May last year and soon won over the donor community, who had suspended aid to the country in 2001 because of rampant corruption. But, since June this year, economic turnaround has been put on the back-burner as the opposition intensifies its impeachment campaign.

The United Democratic Front (UDF), the party on whose ticket Mutharika ascended to the top job, but from which he resigned this year to form his own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is leading the drive.

The 2005/06 Budget was derailed when the UDF moved that Parliament’s standing orders be amended to allow impeachment procedures to take precedence, vowing to remove the president by December. A R250-million loan scheme geared at financing small business was also blocked by Parliament.

“The opposition and the government are failing to sort out the country’s problems. Of course, we have heard the opposition telling the government to mobilise resources to help feed the nation, but if the executive and Parliament are at loggerheads, there is nothing that can be done,” lamented executive director of the Institute for Policy Interaction Rafiq Hajat.

“The government is not being open about how much food has been ordered from outside, and how much is already in the depots. Every-thing the government does takes place in secret,” he said.

Mutharika has lashed out at his detractors, accusing the opposition of deliberately frustrating his development agenda because of his stance on corruption. His dismissal of the inspector general of police, the director of public prosecutions and the army commander, all perceived allies of former president Bakili Muluzi, who effectively runs the UDF, are among the reasons cited for the impeachment.

Mutharika’s chiding of the opposition, which collectively have a two-thirds majority in the 193-member legislature, is not helpful, according to Chancellor College political scientist Dr Nadine Patel. “The president’s attitude also leaves a lot to be desired. He has been castigating the opposition MPs at rallies. He needs to tone down his language. The country is suffering and the president needs Parliament.”

The brittleness of the DPP was shown by three recent senior resignations. Minister of Water and Irrigation Gwanda Chakuamba and Chief of State Residences Zikhale Ng’oma both quit, accusing Mutharika of being “ungrateful”.

Last Sunday, the Minister for People with Physical Disabilities, Clement Chiwaya, announced his resignation at a rally organised by Muluzi. “The DPP was formed for convenience. The party existed without any primary objectives, no ideological base to hold it together. This is the same scenario in other parties such as the UDF,” said Hajat.

Legal analysts are doubtful about whether grounds exist to impeach the president, but the opposition continued its onslaught in Parliament this week.

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