‘Border shutdown to halt economy’

Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama) and a Chancellor College Professor on Tuesday warned of severe economic consequences if airports and border posts are closed as planned by the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC).

HRDC announced at a news conference in Lilongwe on Tuesday that in their relentless quest to force Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah to resign, they will shut down the country’s major airports  and border posts.

Kalilombe: Impacts are being felt

The five-day shutdown is slated for August 26 to 30 2019.

But reacting to the news, Ecama president Chikumbutso Kalilombe for worst economically, once HRDC executes its shutdown plan.

He said: “These protests are now being designed to bring more of severe impacts to get government response on whoever the protests are targeting at. But the impacts are now being felt across the board.

Demonstrators march during previous protest in Lilongwe

“If that happens, yes, we will be hugely be impacted economically in terms of flow of goods and collection of revenue.”

Kalilombe said the planned protests will also likely dent the long-time international perception that Malawi is a stable and peaceful State.

Commenting on the issue, Chancellor College Economics Professor Ben Kalua said HRDC’s decision, once implemented, will “worsen the crisis we are already in” through massive business disruption.

Demonstrators march during previous protest in Blantyre

He compared it to last year’s Internet shutdown in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a day after the country held its elections, which he said completely disconnected the country from the rest of the world.

“This will have serious economic implications and will send a negative message to the tourism industry and investors who would want to invest in the country and those who want to fly in and out of the country. The sooner all these issues related to demonstrations are sorted out, the better for the country,” said Kalua.

Speaking separately, a tax expert Emanuel Kaluluma on Tuesday wondered whether the planned shutdown is designed to help ordinary Malawians or not.

He said: “Current assets are things are such money that these same businesses pay MRA in form of tax which in essence helps government buy medicine, pay our policemen, teachers, among others.

“Therefore, to me, it’s a contradiction towards the noble concern that these organisers of the protests have.”

A source at MRA on Tuesday shared similar concerns by economic and tax experts, saying the shutdown could cost the country roughly 20 percent of the total tax revenue that the institution collects, in form of customs revenue.

According to the source, MRA is already bleeding as it struggles to collect inland taxes in the face of the demonstrations, warning that shutdown of airports and border posts will likely affect overall tax revenue for government, which is currently in the midst of formulating the 2019/20 national budget.

HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo told journalists at a press briefing in Lilongwe on Tuesday that organisers of mass demonstrations will not relent.

He said: “We told them last time during mega demonstrations that we will hold demonstrations at the airport. Instead of leaders listening to Malawians, they are intimidating us; we will not stop holding demonstrations until she resigns.”

Malawi Police Service (MPS) spokesperson James Kadadzera said in an interview on Tuesday that the law enforcers expect HDRC to follow right procedures to hold demonstrations and vigils as planned. According to HRDC, the protests will be held at all border posts in Chitipa, Karonga, Mzimba, Mchinji, Dedza, Mangochi, Mwanza and Mulanje districts as one way of expressing dissatisfaction over Ansah’s decision not to resign despite several calls that she should do so.

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