Parliament on Friday last week passed the MK1.4 trillion budget for the 2018-2019 financial year.
The deliberations on the budget have gone through hurdles as the budget discussions collided with the interests of the members of parliament who wanted their salaries and benefits raised.
The parliamentarians however pushed their wishes privately as they did not want to be publicly seen as self-seeking individuals.
Speaking after the budget was passed, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kondwani Nankhumwa expressed happiness that the budget was now passed after several adjournments and suspension of discussion due to pressure from the parliamentarians.
Nankhumwa highlighted that the government has met some of the conditions parliamentarians pressed for and that some issues were still under discussion as the parliamentarians wanted a waiver of duty from the cars they would want to be importing.
The 2018-2019 budget has also been slashed by about MK50 billion as a measure designed to cut down on domestic borrowing initially pegged at MK1.5 trillion.
It was described as a campaign tool owing to the number of development projects it has lined up for implementation as well as raising honoraria for local chiefs.
US Ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer has challenged commercial banks and other financial institutions in the country to provide favorable credit facilities and develop policies and programs targeting rural women in order to financially empower them.
She made the remarks Friday in Lilongwe during a Women’s Economic Empowerment Conference organized by Feed The Future Malawi Agriculture Diversification Activity and UN Women.
The conference aimed at strengthening linkages between policy holders and financial service providers to increase rural women farmers and entrepreneurs access to sustainable credit loans.
This comes against the background that Malawi’s agricultural sector is underperforming partly because women, who form the backbone to agriculture and rural economy, face constraints to access productive resources such as formal financing.
She urged commercial banks to realize the untapped potential lending sector in women in the agricultural sector.
“Women have a very high repayment rate and are doing incredibly great work. We need to look creatively at mechanisms by which they can prove they are credit worth and make sure they get access to finances so that they can grow those businesses,” said Palmer speaking to journalists.
On the other hand, Palmer said financial literacy and education for women is very important.
“If you are not financially literate, you cannot sustain (yourself) in the market place, manage to bargain and understand not to be taken advantage of.
“So girls do need to stay in school, which is a basic step on the road to women’s economic empowerment,” said Palmer.
With high interest rates being one of the challenges women are facing, Palmer said inflation is the worst thing for the poor people but said it was pleasing to note that things are heading in the right direction with rates are going down.
This she attributed to the good work that the government of Malawi has done to stay within its budget.
She added that time has come for people to stop taking the agricultural sector as an ordinary workplace but rather as the engine for the growth of Malawi’s economy, and also look at new ways to stimulate the sector.
UN Women Country representative, Clara Anyangwe in her remarks said the initiative to fight for financial inclusion for women is important for Malawian women because financial resources are the first thing needed to grow businesses.
“This is why we thought of bringing macro and micro financial institutions together to have a conversation in terms of the products and services that they have to ensure that resource poor women are financially included,” said Anyangwe.
She acknowledged that commercial banks in the country ask for high collateral security, like land which most women do not have.
Other stakeholders that attended the conference included Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, First Merchant Bank, NBS, ECO bank, FINCA among other various NGOs.
Leader of Opposition Lazarus Chakwera has trashed the State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered in parliament by President Peter Mutharika, describing it as empty.
In his response in parliament on Monday, Chakwera, who is also the MCP President, claimed that challenges that the country continues to face are due to failures by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
He further pointed out that the party is failing to lead Malawi and must is mainly characterized with failure to tell the truth, stealing and torturing Malawians.
Chakwera in his response to the state of the Nation Address has insiscated that the DPP government has failed to tell Malawians the truth on a number of issues.
He outlined the truth and prosperity, justice and security are not being provided as promised in their manifesto.
He further said that drug shortages are continuing, security to people including the media and members of parliament is evidently not being provided.
Civil servants and teachers inclusive are still struggling when they shouldn’t have.
Among the long list of what he says are failed promises, are failures to protect Chikangawa forest, ending blackouts and reducing powers of the president.
On theft, Chakwera indicated that the DPP led administration is marred with corruption and it is becoming worse.
He says Malawi’s scale on the Corruption Perception Index was better in 2013 and 204 but not the same in the years under the DPP.
He however told the house that he has an alternative vision for Malawi with the position he holds as the leader of opposition.
Chakwera advises the government to mobilise financial resources needed to carry out the key investments in infrastructure and other service.
Further, he is of the view that public recourses must be spent only onn key priorities, and this he says should be done by improving budgeting systems and procurement systems.
Ralph Jooma and other members of parliament also commented on the state of the nation address which was delivered by Mutharika last week.
International non-governmental organisations have come under the microscope for failing to account for the financial resources they receive from development partners and other donors.
This comes amidst revelations that out of the two hundred and eight international NGOs working in Malawi, less than 50 have registered with the NGO board to submit their annual financial reports.
Director of economic planning in the Ministry of Finance Adwell Zembere has stressed on the need for the NGOs to report to the NGO board as a way of ensuring that duplication in funding development is reduced.
Zembere noted that lack of coordination in the implementation of development projects leads to sometimes overfunding certain development activities whilst other areas are denied of the much needed resources for development.
Weighing in his views, Malawi Economic Justice Network executive director Dalitso Kubalasa stressed on the need for the international organisations to be transparent, adding that there is no need for the NGOs to hide any information because they are working on behalf of the government to serve the citizens.
The International NGOs are believed to be the main channel of financial inflows from outside the country, where estimates put them at over two billion dollars, an amount of money which is way beyond what government gets either from taxes or official development assistance.
The NGOs are also facing public scrutiny for failing to show the impact of their activities on the ground despite being the number one recipient of development aid
Understaffing has hit hard the Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in the capital city Lilongwe.
This hassled to facility failing to admit the estimated number of patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and High Dependency Unit (HDU) due to having insufficient nurses.
The hospital with support from the Norwegian Church Aid and other stakeholders has new ICU and theatres but is failing to utilise the facility.
According to KCH’s Director Jonathan Ngoma, the hospital currently has about 300 nurses but needs at least 200 additional nurses to meet the demand which is far from being reached.
Ngoma said unlike the commercial capital, Blantyre where there are numerous private hospitals there are few in Lilongwe and this leaves people in the central region with very little to choose from when seeking medical attention.
“Lilongwe being the capital city, all the diplomats are based here, and the only big health facility is Kamuzu Central, where even the top government officials and people from the international community will end up seeking help here,” Ngoma said.
It is at this very facility where the former president Bingu wa Mutharika was rushed to and suspected to have breathed his last.
Focusing on the ICU and the HDU alone, where state of the art were provided for by some development partners among them Norwegian Church Aid , it has been observed that the facilities are not being utilised to the maximum due to lack of human resource to make use of it rendering lives at risk.
“You find that we increased ICU and HDU which is able to take 10 patients but as of now, it is taking only four which means a lot of beds are usually empty and I can even anticipate with the new theatre under construction that we might even have shortage of theatre nurses,” added Ngoma.
Meanwhile Malawi Secretary for Health Dan Namarika said government is this year recruiting some health workers.
“Last year the ministry of Health recruited about 1,000 health workers, in about two weeks through Global fund money we will be recruiting about 300, by the end of the year we will be able to recruit another one thousand.”
Ironically it is reported that there are more Malawian nurses working outside the country than within, which KCH director Jonathan Ngoma believes there are many facts that can be attributed to this including remunerations.
There have been growing calls from members of the civil society and parliamentary Health committee on hospital autonomy to allow the facilities recruit staff.