Government has lately been under fire from opposition parties and civil society organisations on several pressing issues. Our reporter BONIFACE PHIRI caught up with Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education, who is also government spokesperson, JAPPIE MHANGO, who explains government’s side. Excerpts:
QYou have been accusing Parliament of financial extravagance, yet as we hear from some opposition MPs, government has also bought vehicles worth K3.9 billion for ministers and top officials. Is this not extravagance as well?
ADon’t mind them because they just want to be heard politically. This is the work of Kamlepo Kalua who is simply making political noise and I find such claims naive and crazy. He also told a local radio station this week that government is planning to assassinate him, but that’s him. He is a noisemaker who likes to make wild allegations and simply wants to be seen that he exists. The truth is that we have bought 150 operational vehicles for the police who have been facing mobility problems and so far 61 vehicles have been delivered already. Among those are a few Toyota Prados for senior officers while the rest are Toyota Land Cruisers.
QSome would still say that’s extravagance considering that a single Toyota Prado TX can cost as high as K120 million?
ADoes Kamlepo Kalua and the opposition want to live in a country that’s insecure? They should stop being insensitive to Malawians. Parliament recently bought expensive vehicles for luxury whereas government has bought vehicles for security for us all including themselves. Nobody will be bought a new vehicle unless the economy picks up. People must know that some of the vehicles on President Peter Mutharika’s convoy are more than eight years old and the Vice- President still uses vehicles left by Khumbo Kachali. So, Kamlepo and anyone making these claims need to bring evidence of what they are saying.
QThe IMF recently accused government of over-borrowing and overspending. Doe sn’ t t h i s con f i rm observations that government is extravagant with resources?
AWe do agree that government hasn’t done well on domestic borrowing, but that is for a reason. Firstly, the Joyce Banda regime ordered military equipment and made commitments but never paid for it. The suppliers wanted to be paid their money and this government had to. Secondly, there’s the issue of a bloated wage bill which the IMF observed is too huge and we agreed. In response, we have embarked on a head-count of all civil servants to check if all workers on the payroll indeed exist. These are the two areas the IMF accused government of over-borrowing and overspending respectively.
QThe DPP administration is also being accused of sidelining the Northern Region in al location of development initiatives and senior appointments. What’s your take?
AThis is very unfair to President Mutharika. The north has four people in the Cabinet: three full ministers and one deputy namely Goodall Gondwe, Grace Obama Chiume, Vincent Ghambi and myself. The north has been given a fair share of appointments because out of six districts it has four ministers. I know that the
issue here is about the newly appointed Clerk of Parliament (CoP) which to me is a non-issue. Whether somebody came first and she emerged third in the interviews is immaterial because the President was trying to strike a balance. Remember Parliament is about legislation and the lady in question is an expert in drafting bills and the President also considered issues of gender balance in appointing her.
Thirdly, the person who came first during the interviews is a judge and we all know that the country already has a shortage of judges and he didn’t want to grab human resource from an institution that is already understaffed. I am also disturbed when I hear Kalua and Harry Mkandawire say the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is also sidelining the north in terms of development project. There are several big projects that have been earmarked for the region including the Njakwa- Livingstonia road which will cut through Kalua’s constituency, Jenda-Edingeni road, Mzuzu- Nkhata Bay road, Karonga- Songwe road, a technical college in Rumphi and many more. Let me tell Malawians in case they didn’t know; Kalua doesn’t live in Rumphi, he stays in Blantyre. In fact, his family migrated to Mangochi a long time ago, so essentially he is just a visiting MP for Rumphi East and doesn’t understand much about the area.
QWas it right for President Mutharika to answer back at Lazarus Chakwera and Uladi Mussa in such a charged manner during his recent rally in Mangochi?
AThe President is a human being and if you refer to or attack him personally he has the right to respond and I can’t fault him for that. In the same vein if somebody attacks me personally I’ll respond personally and never attempt to do that! n