Malawi Insider (Blantyre)

Malawi: Poverty Reduction is Malawi's Priority Number One

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Blantyre, Malawi — Speech of Malawi's President Dr Bakili Muluzi when he opened the 36th Session of Parliament on October 15 in Malawi capital Lilongwe.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Honourable Members of the House. It is my great pleasure, honour and privilege to open this Session of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, as the House is aware, Government's policy evolves around poverty reduction. I believe that the goal of poverty reduction can be achieved if people have their basic needs such as food, shelter, clean water and access to health as well as education facilities.

It is my strong belief that once such basic needs are met, people can aspire for higher purposes in life. More importantly, Malawi's democracy can only be meaningfully nurtured if such basic needs are met. I also recognize that poverty is dehumanising and it can be overcome.

I am saying so because we have examples from developing countries such as Malaysia that poverty can be reduced significantly.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, poverty reduction still remains our major socio-economic challenge in this country. Although we have tried to address some of the issues and made qualitative and quantitative achievements more still needs to be done to reduce poverty significantly.

It is for these reasons that Government has continued to put in place a number of initiatives in respect of poverty reduction. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper now remains the centrepiece of Government policy and all our strategic planning is derived from it. Let me at the outset give a brief overview of how the economy has faired. The average annual rate declined steadily from 22.3 percent in December 2001 to 16.1 percent in July 2002 and rose to 16.7 percent in August 2002.

The Reserve Bank of Malawi rate has declined from 46.8 percent to 43 percent. Following the reduction in the Bank rate, commercial banks have reduced the lending and deposit rates to around 42 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

In order for these gains to be sustained, Government will continue maintaining a tight fiscal and monetary policy stance.

The Kwacha has continued to depreciate gradually from K67 to One United States Dollars in December 2001 to K80 to One United States Dollar currently.

This is a normal seasonal trend, which follows the end of the tobacco-selling season. We hope the strength of the Kwacha is likely to improve in December this year.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, after realising that revenue performance was poor in the first quarter of this fiscal year, Government immediately took measures to cut expenditures and revised allocation downwards and reduced most arrears from our suppliers.

The prudent fiscal policies that were put in place in March 2002 controlled future demands in every line Ministry and reduced arrears remarkably.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, whereas the country did not receive most of the expected donor inflows for the first quarter of the implementation of the 2002/2003 Budget, tax revenues over performed in July and August 2002.

For example, the Malawi Revenue Authority collected K2.5 billion in tax revenue in July 2002 compared to a programme target of K2.1 billion for the month. In addition, K2.1 billion in tax revenue was collected in August 2002 compared to a programme target of K1.8 billion for the month.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, although the Malawi Revenue Authority is working very hard towards increasing tax revenue collections, there is a tendency by some tax payers to either evade tax or under declare as well as not remit tax. This is most unacceptable and it is an offence according to our tax laws.

I, therefore, would like to warn tax defaulters that Government will do everything possible to ensure that due and rightful taxes are collected.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, as Honourable Members may be aware, the major preoccupation in the country right now is addressing the food shortage problem.

Government's response to the food problem has been in two dimensions; the first was an appeal for assistance from our co-operating partners and the second is a maize importation programme in order to ensure availability of commercial maize in 780 ADMARC selling points throughout the country.

I wish to give this Honourable House, Mr. Speaker, Sir, a clear picture of the maize stocks and pledges in respect of the requirements for the Humanitarian Assistance Programme and for commercial purposes, in order to address the current food shortage and avert a further food crisis in the coming season.

The recent assessment of food requirement in Malawi has identified a total requirement of 329,000 metric tonnes of which 280,000 metric tonnes is maize. The rest comprises sugar, cooking oil, Likuni Phala, beans and other food items. The number of people needing food assistance is estimated at 3.3 million.

This estimate includes 700,000 malnourished children, school children, pregnant and lactating mothers. This is why the present figure of people needing assistance has increased from 3.2 million to 3.3 million.

As of three weeks ago, donors had already confirmed through the World Food Programme 211,000 metric tonnes out of the food aid requirement. Out of this tonnage, 178,500 metric tonnes is maize.

And 29,000 metric tonnes have already been distributed. The current stocks in the World Food Programme warehouses are at 13,000 metric tonnes.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, I wish to inform this House that the World Food Programme is distributing the free food through an NGO Consortium, that is chaired by CARE International.

In each district there is a particular Non-governmental Organization that is coordinating the food distribution activities. For example, in Mangochi district the NGO responsible for free food distribution is Save the Children UK. In Dedza district, it is Concern Universal that is responsible for distribution.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, I wish to report that in addition to supporting us in food aid, the donor community has also given us non-food aid.

These include aid in agricultural inputs such as treadle pumps, fertilizers and seed. The total food and non-food aid is equivalent to US$144.2 million.

Let me take this opportunity to register Government's profound gratitude to the donor community for its timely response to Malawi's food crisis. Nonetheless, 60 percent of this amount had already been mobilised three weeks ago.

Let me therefore appeal to the donor community for further assistance for us to address the food shortage problem efficiently and effectively and alleviate human suffering.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Government is using its own resources to import through the National Food Reserve Agency 250,000 metric tonnes of commercial maize.

It is going to buy 40,000 metric tonnes with the assistance of the European Union. 25,000 metric tonnes out of the 40,000 metric tonnes have already been received.

Besides, over 112,000 metric tonnes of the commercial maize have already arrived and are in various warehouses of the National Food Reserve Agency.

In addition to the 250,000 metric tonnes of commercial maize, ADMARC has a carry over stock of 28,000 metric tonnes. Currently ADMARC is therefore selling its stocks of last year's maize.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Government will maintain the selling price of K17 per kilogramme instead of the market price of K30 per kilogramme in order to ensure access of the commercial maize by most Malawians.

That translates to the total amount of K3 billion as a Government subsidy. ADMARC has furthermore been instructed not to sell the maize in bulk to ensure that it is available to those that need it most.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, I believe that for the recovery programme to succeed we need to work very hard on transport and logistics. We need more assistance within Malawi and we have to work in tandem with our neighbours whose countries we are using to bring food into Malawi.

Mr. Speaker Sir, I wish to acknowledge with the most profound gratitude the humanitarian approach by the United Nations Secretary General Mr. Kofi Annan to our humanitarian crisis, which has affected eight countries of the SADC Region.

These are Malawi, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

All this clearly demonstrates his commitment and that of the United Nations to the humanitarian crisis over Southern Africa and Malawi, in particular.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, in addition to the intervention of maize importation Government intensified production of winter maize through the Winter Targeted Input Programme. Over 300,000 farmers with wetlands and capacity to produce dimba crops were given free fertilizers and hybrid maize seeds.

I wish to express my Government's profound gratitude to the European Union and the British Government for assisting us in this programme.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, I believe the food situation in our country will remain a budgetary social and economic challenge and will always threaten the lives of many Malawians, if we do not find measures to avoid the resurgence of the problem in the coming season and years. Government thus considers inter-linking short, medium and long-term measures.

The measures include the resumption of the universal Starter Pack Scheme as a short-term policy measure to address the food shortage. This will be supported together with food for work.

I believe that distribution of the universal free farm inputs is necessary because it will provide a social safety network so that people who cannot afford fertiliser and improved seeds will have something to start from in terms of production and realisation of some output next year.

The food for work will provide a framework for national development in terms of road and other related infrastructure in the respective communities.

Furthermore, I believe that if Malawi is to avoid the food shortage problem in future, Government has to contract production of maize for the National Food Reserve.

This agreement should be done with an estimated volume of maize producers for an agreed price for a two-year period with adequate fertilizer guaranteed by NFRA.

I hope that our development partners will assist us in this area. This Mr. Speaker, Sir, would be the right way forward since we would be able to quickly build reserve.

Other measures include implementing the Employees Inputs Credit Scheme, strengthening existing credit schemes, expansion of irrigation programmes, promotion of manure usage and continuation of agricultural policy reforms.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, government remains committed to promote and intensify diversification of the agriculture sector.

I, therefore, encourage farmers to intensify production of various crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, sorghum, millet, rice and many others.

Let me also appeal to all Malawians to diversify their eating habits and to use their food wisely.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, while I appreciate the food aid assistance that Malawi gets from her development partners, I believe that the long-term solution to sustainable food self-sufficiency would also arise from intensive investment in the irrigation sub-sector.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, for the past seven years Government has used the Malawi Social Action Fund (MASAF) as its principal vehicle for increasing infrastructure development in our commitment to reduce poverty.

As a result, access levels to social and economic services have improved in the areas that have benefited from MASAF support.

For instance, the creation of classroom blocks, staff housing, improved ventilated latrines, and school furniture has led to improved learning environment that is directly and favourably impacting on the enrolment rates across the country.

In addition, water and sanitation facilities have led to reductions in water borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.

Creation of health facilities such as dispensaries, maternity units and under-five clinics has meant increased and improved access to basic health services. Roads and bridges have eased access problems to markets, schools and health facilities, across the country.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, I wish to report that through the various investments that the MASAF project has supported, an estimated 5.0 million people are directly benefiting from the service.

Therefore, building on the success of MASAF I and II, and in order to continue fighting poverty and increasing the benefits already realised under the last two phases, Government has prepared MASAF III for World Bank funding.

The MASAF III Programme has been scaled up in scope to include other aspects that have a direct and immediate bearing on poverty.

These will include activities such as agricultural production and community savings and investment promotion. It is expected that the MASAF III Programme will be launched in December this year.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, guaranteeing primary health care is also critical in creating a healthy nation that is necessary for reducing poverty. I am therefore happy to report that there is great progress being made in the health sector.

Construction of Thyolo and Chiradzulu District Hospitals is proceeding satisfactorily. The Ministry of Health and Population is also finalising the tendering procedures with OPEC, for the construction of the New Nkhotakota District Hospital.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, we have also secured funding from the Libyan Government for the construction of a new district hospital in Blantyre. The site has already been identified. Besides Government has secured K100 million for the purchase of new ambulances, which will be distributed according to need.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, I am also very pleased to report that the National AIDS Commission has received US$ 190 million (K15.2 billion) from the Global Fund to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic over the next 5 years.

With these resources, we will now fully implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan. In this context, Mr. Speaker, Sir, I wish to inform Honourable Members that the National AIDS Commission now reports directly to my office.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, malnutrition continues to pose serious problems to the health of the nation. The health sector continues to play a vital role in response through implementation of a dual programme of supplementary and therapeutic feeding.

The World Health Programme will in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Population and NGOs distribute food through the local health facilities network, including CHAM.

Under-five severely malnourished children will be admitted to a nutritional rehabilitation unit for therapeutic feeding.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, pregnant women at risk, will also be eligible for supplementary feeding. In addition, all mothers or guardians of several malnourished children who have been admitted to hospital will also be eligible for food supplementation.

I believe that the provision of water is an integral component of health and human development in our efforts to reducing poverty.

Water can contribute to poverty reduction through improving access of poor people to water resources and services so that they can improve their livelihoods and reduce their vulnerability.

For example, one of the keys to lowering child mortality is reducing the vulnerability of children to water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.

Government has therefore embarked on a serious water and sanitation project in Mzimba, Ntchisi and Chiradzulu to ensure that households have access to clean water and good sanitation. The African Development Bank is supporting this programme.

Besides, government will continue with its programme of providing various communities throughout the country with boreholes for portable water.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Government continues with its efforts of making education a high priority area in recognition that education is a key to poverty reduction in Malawi. Universal access to basic education has always been critical in enabling the poor to develop and contribute towards poverty reduction.

I am pleased that a major impact of Malawi's poverty reduction strategy has been achieved through the introduction of the Free Primary Education in 1994. As you know, the pupil enrolment tripled to 3.2 million from 1.9 million. However, our major challenge is to ensure that the quality of schooling maintains a good standard.

We need to guarantee that there are sufficient resources to meet even basic inputs such as teachers, classrooms, textbooks and other teaching and learning materials.

As the primary education enrolment has increased following the introduction of the Free Primary Education, the demand for qualified secondary school teachers has also increased at a faster rate.

The current teacher requirement in government and government-aided secondary schools is about 9,000.

Furthermore, we will endeavour to increase the infrastructure to accommodate, for example, more than the 300,000 pupils that would need to enter secondary schools in the next academic year.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Government is currently negotiating with the World Bank on the possibilities of funding the expansion and improvement of the Secondary Teacher Education Programme.

The opening of the Mzuzu University in the Northern Region has created greater education opportunities for many Malawians than before. Nonetheless, we need further expansion in higher education.

Government is therefore negotiating with the same World Bank for assistance in the expansion of Higher Education.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Government is convinced that vocational and technical training are among the key instruments for employment and poverty reduction.

As a result, among other interventions, Government intends to build a number of village polytechnics in some districts in addition to building a Technical Teacher's Training College.

As a matter of fact, plans are underway to commence foundations for Chilembwe Technical College, in Chiradzulu district.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Honourable Members, in its continued efforts to reduce poverty, in January this year, Government launched a Village Housing Scheme.

The major aim of the Scheme is to improve housing conditions of vulnerable groups in our rural areas such as the poorest of the poor, the elderly and those taking care of orphans.

I know that for such people life is a struggle and it is Government's wish to alleviate their suffering. Besides, the Scheme will likely change the face of the countryside while improving the living conditions of the beneficiaries.

Since the launch of the Scheme over 54 houses have been completed and handed over to beneficiaries in Chiradzulu, Dowa and Mzimba districts.

As you may recall, Mr. Speaker, Sir, I handed over keys to eighteen beneficiaries of the Village Housing Scheme at Ruviri in Mzimba District last week.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Government is very committed to ensuring equitable access to and security of land tenure for all Malawians and promotion of efficient sustainable utilisation of land and land-based resources.

To achieve this goal, Government has embarked on a land reform programme in order to address the problems of inequitable distribution of land, insecure land tenure, and severe land pressure in densely populated areas.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, I am too aware that fraud and corruption undermine efforts against poverty. It is therefore important to curb corruption in order to free resources and ensure their judicious utilization for poverty reduction programmes.

I am pleased that the issue of public trust and good governance is not only a constitutional prerogative, but it is also firmly anchored as Pillar 4 in the Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, that I officially launched on 24th April, 2002.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Honourable Members, I am happy to inform the Honourable House that with support from the British Government, the Anti-Corruption Bureau has facilitated Sensitisation Workshops.

In the workshops some Magistrates have been updated on the provisions of the Corrupt Practices Act, to ensure consistency in the interpretation and application of the law.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, the Bureau has also facilitated delivery of the Corruption Module in the Parliamentary Training Programme.

This is important, Mr. Speaker, Sir, as Honourable Members represent the people at the grassroots level, such training will go a long way towards sensitising the general public about the evil effects of corruption.

In addition, the Anti-Corruption Bureau has embarked on an active programme of corruption prevention in the public and private sector with the help of the Norwegian Agency for Development and Corporation, (NORAD) and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).

It is, therefore, very important that people in the various institutions show intolerance of corrupt practices.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, communication plays a vital role in national development and poverty reduction. In this respect, Government has continued to transform the country's communication system from the old analogy system to a new digital system. A number of rural areas have already started benefiting from this improvement in technology.

Similarly, Mr. Speaker, Sir, Government has continued with its commitment to ensure the provision of a co-ordinated road infrastructure.

For example, there are on going road construction projects such as the Naminga - Nselema - Chiponde - Mangochi road, the Karonga - Chitipa road and the Mangochi - Malindi - Makanjila road.

I am pleased to announce that the African Development Bank (ADB) has agreed to construct the rest of the sections of the Karonga - Chitipa road.

Both the Karonga - Chiweta road project funded by the European Union and the Msulira - Nkhotakota road funded by the African Development Bank are expected to be completed this year.

Construction of the new Dwambadzi Bridge, which is funded by the European Union, is also underway and is expected to finish by 2003.

The European Union has also agreed to fund the rehabilitation of the Mangochi - Monkey Bay road and the Nchalo - Bangula - Nsanje - Marka road.

I am also pleased to report that the road from Thyolo to Makwasa - Thekerani - Muona will be constructed to M1 standard with funds from the Kuwait Arab Development Bank Fund.

Government realises the need to increase investment in the private sector in order to reduce poverty.

Consequently, we have embarked on a programme, which is aimed at the promotion of marketing of domestic products, particularly, those produced by small and medium entrepreneurs.

These efforts are being supported by capacity building programmes whereby producers and entrepreneurs are being trained in various production and marketing skills.

Efforts by the private sector to take advantage of market access opportunities under the trade arrangements that Malawi is involved in have been encouraged and intensified.

Accordingly some garment manufacturing companies are exporting apparel to the United States of America under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Furthermore, exports of sugar and apparel to South Africa are flowing under the SADC Trade Protocol.

Government is working with stakeholders to identify other products that can be exported to the United States and other export markets.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, in order to streamline activities related to investment and export promotion, Government took a decision to merge MIPA and MEPC. The two institutions will now operate as one institution.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, mining can be the engine of growth for Malawi's economy with appropriate and sufficient investment.

Government is therefore actively trying to encourage full investment in this sector since most of the products such as ruby, graphite, gemstones and lime have a potential market.

It is my hope that should we fully exploit the mining industry the potential to generate household income and forex at national level could contribute towards poverty reduction.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Government recognises the importance of electricity in rural areas to enhance micro and medium scale entrepreneurship and reduce poverty.

Thus through ESCOM and the Energy Department in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs, we have embarked on a Rural Electrification Programme, which includes solar power. Encouraging progress is already being noticed in some of the rural areas.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world.

If managed responsibly, it promotes the social and economic development of local communities. Government thus recognises the importance of tourism as an economic growth alternative and we are encouraging its development.

As some of you have noticed, investment in the hospitality industry is now vibrant through the construction of new hotels, especially in the cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe.

I believe that poverty as a problem is best dealt with by using local solutions and capabilities.

Therefore consistent with a people-centred and pro-poor poverty reduction strategy, Government finds it very necessary to target people through Local Governments.

This is so because Local Governments play the primary roles of facilitators, implementers or co-implementers in our fight against poverty.

The Department of Local Government is implementing a public works programme in some districts with the assistance of the European Union.

The improved feeder road infrastructure in the rural areas will spur economic activities, raise rural incomes and facilitate the provision of basic and social services such as schools, hospitals and markets.

As Honourable Members may know, Sports and Music are potential areas for improving our economy. In this respect, Government has continued to encourage Malawians to excel in sports and music activities.

One major achievement in this area is the production and launch of a cassette and CD of the best Malawian Music, which will be a means of generating money for musicians. In the same vein, a number of musicians have been empowered through grants to enhance their productivity.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Government strongly believes that measures that focus exclusively towards poor women are more likely to create both short and long term impacts on poverty reduction and eradication.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, one advocate for women's empowerment once said, "If African women were to stop working for one day, there would be no food, no caring for the sick, no sewing, no trading in the market - life would stop for that day."

In view of the critical contribution women make to our country's social and economic development, the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Community Services has allocated K8 million to 10 pilot districts to empower poor women by doing businesses.

The Commercial Bank of Malawi and Malawi Savings Bank are administering the loans to various groups in the 10 districts.

Another initiative for empowering women is a Blantyre Urban Credit Scheme that has so far provided credit to 4,810 beneficiaries. Similar Urban Credit Schemes will be established in Lilongwe and Mzuzu.

These initiatives, I believe will generate direct improvements in the social and economic conditions of the women and their communities.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Government is dedicated to the empowerment of the marginalized and vulnerable people in our communities. In this respect, one of Government's priorities is to ensure that adequate support services are provided to persons with disabilities as a mechanism of fighting poverty.

To this end, I am pleased to report that Government has recently secured funding from the Norwegian Government through the Norwegian Association for the Disabled (NAD).

NAD will make available the sum of K40 million to strengthen organizations of people with disabilities, among other areas.

This will surely contribute towards ensuring increased access to economic empowerment and the inclusion of people with disabilities in economic development.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, I believe that addressing poverty also means raising the level and quality of social protection provided to people of this country.

Government has therefore continued to ensure the safety and security of all persons and property within Malawi.

I wish to commend the Police Service for their continued services to provide security although they are working under some constraints.

As a strategy for the continued fight against crime in the country and ensuring public safety and security, Government will recruit and train more men and women; expand training facilities; build more houses for the Service; and increase the number of Police units and motor vehicles throughout the country.

These measures, I believe, will increase the accessibility and responsiveness of the Police.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Honourable Members of the House, I believe that no meaningful endeavour to reduce poverty can take place without peace and stability in this country.

As I mentioned during the last sitting in May, this year, I once again wish to commend the Malawi Defence Force for continuing to maintain a well disciplined and professional Defence Force, which has been instrumental in nurturing democracy in Malawi and contributed towards regional and international peace efforts.

I am saying this Mr. Speaker Sir, because our Defence Force has adapted very well to the Principles of Democracy.

This has been demonstrated through their participation in Peacekeeping Missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kosovo for the past three years.

What pleases me even more is that in their conduct of duty, both within the country and abroad, they do not forget our Malawian tradition of being a disciplined society.

Mr. Speaker Sir, I am aware that troops from other countries deployed to such Peacekeeping Missions are sent back to their respective countries because of indiscipline cases. Our Defence Force has continued to maintain the good reputation regionally as well as internationally.

Mr. Speaker Sir, Government will continue to support our Defence Force in their welfare and operational issues.

And I am pleased to report that construction of soldiers' houses has continued particularly at Mvera where shortage of staff houses was critical. This development will alleviate the current shortage of houses our soldiers are experiencing.

Honourable Members, Government will also continue to improve the one bedroom colonial houses of our soldiers that are no longer comfortable to accommodate an average Malawian family.

Mr. Speaker Sir, provision of the necessary education infrastructure in our Army units is of paramount importance in order to reduce and eradicate poverty.

I am therefore pleased to report that construction of schools at Moyale in Mzuzu and Kamuzu Barracks in Lilongwe have been completed. Let me commend MASAF for their continued support in these programmes.

Let me also report, Mr. Speaker Sir, that the introduction of the Agricultural Production Unit in the Defence Force has already proved the assurance of food sufficiency this year and in future.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, while I am aware that the primary role of the Defence Force is to defend the sovereignty of this country, as Commander-in-Chief, I am pleased to report that when called upon to assist the Police in crime prevention and restoration of Law and Order, the Malawi Defence Force has been readily available.

Turning to international relations, I am pleased to report that Malawi continues to enjoy excellent relations with its neighbours and the rest of the international community.

The country is also actively involved in a number of initiatives aimed at promoting co-operation between Malawi and the rest of the world.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, during my term of office as Chairperson of SADC, I made a commitment to devote my efforts towards a search for solutions to the various conflicts reigning in our region.

I made this commitment realising that war and conflict are sources of regional instability as well as a major obstacle to economic development.

Our region could not achieve any meaningful development in the absence of peace and political stability.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, that is why I undertook a number of peace missions in the past year. You will recall that as part of the SADC efforts to find solutions to the conflict in the DRC, I also played host to a number of stakeholders in the conflict.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, although an all inclusive peace agreement is yet to be reached in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I am happy to report that the peace initiatives taken so far, have not all been in vain.

The signing of the peace agreement between the Governments of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on 30th July 2002 was a positive development in the peace process.

It addressed one of the fundamental issues in the DRC conflict, that of the withdrawal of foreign troops. It is my hope that the people of the DRC can go back to the negotiating table to continue discussing peace.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, as you know, I have recently returned from Angola where I attended the SADC Summit.

It is encouraging that following the signing of the cease fire accord between the Government of Angola and UNITA on 4th April 2002, Angola is now on what can best be described as an irreversible road to lasting peace.

I would like, once again, to congratulate His Excellency, President Jose Edouardo dos Santos, the Government and the people of Angola for this achievement.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, the month of July 2002 witnessed the historic launch of the African Union in Durban, South Africa. Malawi will do everything possible to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the African Union in order to enhance her own social and economic development programmes.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Honourable Members, Malawi has signed cooperation agreements with a number of countries, including all our neighbours.

In this respect, Malawi recently held a number of meetings with the Governments of Zimbabwe, Kenya and Mozambique.

During the meeting with Zimbabwe, a number of issues were discussed, which included the problems of remittance of money earned by Malawian exporters who have supplied various items to companies in Zimbabwe; and pension funds for Malawian pensioners who worked in Zimbabwe.

We have agreed that our two Central Banks should engage in concrete discussions in order to find a solution to these and other related financial issues.

Allow me, Mr. Speaker, Sir, to express my appreciation to our friends in the international community, who have supported us and still continue doing so in our endeavour to uplift our poor people from poverty and improve their lives for the better.

Among our several development partners, I wish to thank in particular the Governments of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Canada, the Republic of China, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Australia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, France, Libya, South Africa, Ghana, South Korea and Egypt.

We are equally grateful to the following agencies and organisations: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, the African Development Bank, the Arab Bank for the Economic Development of Africa, the OPEC Fund for International Development, the United Nations Development Programme, the United States Aid for International Development, the Department for International Development of the British Government; the Norwegian Agency for Development and Corporation, the Swedish International Agency and the United Nations International Children's Education Fund.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, I have dutifully outlined Government's achievements and efforts in its endeavour to reduce poverty. Poverty reduction is indeed possible. However, as the way forward I believe that more can be achieved if only we all unite, co-operate and work harder as we share defined objectives and a common vision.

I believe that when more unity and co-operation become a living reality we will all feel that we do not have to work just for our individual life, for our own families, but also for the entire nation for the well being of each and every Malawian.

Our unity and co-operation must grow side by side with a new spirit and entire change of attitude whereas Malawians will regard each other as brothers and sisters of one family.

Let us also get it straight in our minds that Malawi belongs to us all and that the moral obligation and responsibility is upon us all to use our God-given talents and chart a better future for our children and ourselves.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, because of the love of our country and the neighbour people should have all willingness to go to any length to work together as people of one nation.

People should understand that when they harm another person they are harming themselves. For example, people must also understand that if they vandalise water, electricity or hospital facilities they are also depriving themselves as well as others of such facilities.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, let these words of wisdom from Booker T. Washington give us a lesson.

Once upon a time a ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal, "Water, water, we die of thirst!" the answer from the friendly vessel at once came back, "Cast down your bucket where you are."

A second time the signal, "Water, water, send us water!" ran up from the distressed vehicle, and was answered, "Cast down your bucket where you are." And a third and fourth signal for water was answered, "Cast down your bucket where you are."

The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Shire River near Lake Malawi.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, it is also imperative that as Malawians we look within ourselves and around us. God has blessed us with creative potentials and many natural resources.

If we pull together our collective talents and efforts and cast our bucket in agriculture, industry, health, education, mining, tourism and communication, among others, we can fight poverty and succeed.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, I will always endeavour to use my God-given talents to the fullest to fight poverty for the love of my fellow Malawians and country.

Likewise I challenge my fellow Malawians to fully use their God given creative ability and resources in order to fight poverty.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, Honourable Members of the House, it is now my great honour and pleasure to declare this Session of Parliament officially open.

I wish you very fruitful deliberations. Thank you all for your attention. May God bless you and bless our nation.

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