Press Statement
Lilongwe, 10 April, 2020
While the Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) commends State President Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika for taking a leading role in trying to contain further spread of COVID-19 pandemic, CDEDI has some reservations on some measures that impinge upon rights of the poor.
From the word go, Mutharika and indeed his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) demonstrated strategic leadership by among many others declaring a State of Disaster even though by then the country had not yet registered a confirmed COVID-19 case. The President also established a Ministerial Committee that is providing daily updates. This is a welcome development.
However, CDEDI just like all well-meaning Malawians have after taking a through analysis of the preventive measures, discovered that some of recent measures by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development will hit hard on poor Malawians.
The recent statement made by Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Dr. Ben Phiri is a complete shutdown to Small and Medium Enterprise (SME’s) across the country. It is a fact that in Malawi, we have female and child headed households that survives on selling food items in the streets and along our city and council roads across the country. It is so inconsiderate for the Local Government minister to order the closure of all rural mobile markets.
The minister’s directive has further pushed millions of Malawians to join the bandwagon of the unemployed, at the same time piling pressure on those that are working to enforce the same measures, the case of the extended family and by the end of the day everyone is going to feel the pinch.
It was CDEDI’s expectation that the ministerial committee should have taken time to find out how the effective measure to contain Corona virus will in turn impact on the majority poor.
President Mutharika and indeed the cabinet committee on Corona virus ought to take note of the fact that both government and private sector employs less than five hundred thousand people, this means that over 18 million Malawians are employed in the informal sector that includes self employment. Therefore, much as we appreciate that government has an obligation to protect its citizens from the Coronavirus pandemic, it should do so cautiously without protecting the rich only while condemning the poor to early graves due to starvation.
In all fairness, the decision to ban mobile markets in rural areas is selective application of justice that only favour urban dwellers. This will affect economic activities in rural areas while allowing urban markets to continue with their operations. We believe the reasonable measure was to apply standard measures which allow operations of all markets but with emphasis on enforcement on sanitary measures and social distance.
If the current restrictions government has put in place are anything to go by, then one can safely conclude that Malawi is under a lockdown technically but for one reason or the other government does not want to declare so!
On other hand, the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) Monitory Policy Committee (MPC) on April 1, 2020, dedicated MK12 billion to cushion commercial banks in the country in order for them to support the sectors that are hit by the COVID-19 effects. As CDEDI we take this as a clear example of measures that would only benefit the well financed businesses leaving out SME’s.
We therefore, appeal to government to standardize the councils’ approach at the same time put a human face to the measures by ensuring that poor people are to be pushed to utter misery.
President Mutharika should intervene by making sure that the poor and the less privileged Malawians are taken care of by way of providing them with food and soap for them to exercise hygienic conditions.
CDEDI believes that government has a lot of work to do in order to get the confidence deserving a government in control. CDEDI maintains its earlier call for government to subsidize public transport fares in order to cushion the poor that commutes to and from their work places and small scale business. We strongly encourage the ministerial committee to do so in consultation with the transport operators.
Lastly, but not the least CDEDI would like to appeal to President Peter Mutharika to extend a call to Malawi Congress Party(MCP) President Dr Lazarus Chakwera and his UTM counterpart to for a high-level political leadership committee on corona virus to take away the political face in the fight against COVID 19.
CDEDI is a non partisan, nongovernmental organization that was established with a goal to have a well-informed and organized citizenry that can ably demand their social and economic rights at the same time hold duty bearers accountable for their actions.
Among many others CDEDI aims at sensitizing the masses on matters of national importance, inculcate the spirit of a peaceful coexistence among people of different ethnic, political and religious affiliations; provide civic education on people’s rights and responsibilities in economic independence and contribution towards national development and lobbying for the electoral law reforms.