Chakwera Delivers 2023 SONA Amid Opposition Disruptions
Lilongwe: President Lazarus Chakwera delivered his much-anticipated State of the Nation Address (SONA) in the Parliament Building here in the capital city amid interruptions from the opposition benches.
The visibly courageous Chakwera seemed to take no issue with the interruptions as he continued to outline his plans for Malawi in the upcoming 2023/2024 fiscal year. He had readied himself for this.
“As a former Member of this House, I have friends and colleagues on both sides of the political divide, and some of them warned me that my reception in this Chamber today may be hostile.
“However, I have come today without anxiety, not only because it is required of me to be here by Section 89 of our Republic’s Constitution, but also because the time I spent as a Member of this House persuades me that both sides of the political divide are dominated by serious and patriotic men and women who have gathered here for no other reason than to debate respectfully about what is best for Malawians,” he stated.
On several occasions Speaker Catherine Gotani Hara intervened to calm the situation so the president could continue his address.
The opposition seemed to have prepared for a showdown well ahead. Some of the MPs put on attire made from fertilizer sacks, according to them, to indicate the Tonse government’s failure to run the 2022/2023 farm subsidies programme and general poverty in the country.
The situation got even worse when the president said: “I was saddened, Madam Speaker, when one Member of Parliament from Mulanje came to thank me for ensuring that the people in his constituency who are food insecure had received their allocation of food
“..... for he feared that his constituency would be excluded from the relief because he sits on the opposition side and because he knows that past Administrations had a habit of politicizing food and using cycles of hunger for political ends. But that is not the vision I have for the country, and that is not what Malawians want. “
The opposition MPs, mainly from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), demanded to know who the said MP was.
At one point, Speaker Gotani Hara nearly sent out Mulanje South MP Naomi Kilekwa who was one of those interrupting the speech. She called the sergeant-at-arms to evict the MP but she resisted.
In an apparent move to save time, the speaker gave in. “I’ll deal with this matter later,” she said, allowing the president to resume speaking.
This was Chakwera’s 4th State of the Nation Address since he assumed office in June 2020 after winning a highly contested election which followed a Supreme Court decision to annul the previous election of his contender Peter Mutharika of the DPP. It marks the beginning of the 50th Session of the Malawi Parliament.
In the coming days, Minister of Finance Sosten will be presenting his 2023/2024 national budget to complement the SONA.
Among other points, President Chakwera announced that the government will re-design the implementation of the farm subsidies programme known as Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) in the coming fiscal year, saying it will be a incorporated in a general social protection programme to avert duplications and the other challenges experienced this year.
“As for the 2022/2023 planting season we are in, the AIP faced administrative challenges that resulted in the September deadline I had set for its rollout to be missed. But when this happened, I took decisive and corrective steps by appointing a new Minister of Agriculture and making personnel changes at the Ministry.
“As of three days ago, the Programme has achieved a redemption rate of 73.74%, just 1.5% shy of what it was at this point last year. The number of households that have already benefited so far stands at over 1.7 million, with access to about 182,425 Metric Tonnes of fertilizer and over 9,000 Metric Tonnes of cereal seeds,” he announced.
Reacting to the state-of-the-nation address, Michael Kaiyatsa, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation told Zodiak it gives less hope to Malawians because there are many challenges facing the country.
Earlier, Director General of the National Planning Commission Dr Thomas Munthali expressed concern that the government is slow in implementing plans aimed at transforming the country.
He observed that the government needs to be prudent on pro-economic growth strategies to be independent from donor funding, which he said is dwindling in the light of global economic challenges and international conflicts such as the war in Ukraine.