BLANTRYE, MALAWI - Malawi's president has ordered a 10 percent pay cut for himself and his 32-member cabinet to cushion the impact of coronavirus on the economy. But critics say the wage cuts are too small for a country that depends largely on donor funding, and where the virus is starting to be felt.
Malawian officials announced the country's first death from COVID-19 Tuesday. The patient, a 31-year-old Asian woman, who resided in Blantyre, had recently returned from India, where it is believed she contracted the virus.
The number of coronavirus cases now stands at eight, and medical experts say they are following up with about 100 people who had contact with the patients.
President Peter Mutharika declared COVID-19 a national disaster last month before the country even registered its first case.
In his latest address on the pandemic over the weekend, Mutharika announced several measures to help cushion the economic impact of the disease.
Those include a string of tax breaks for businesses, a reduction in fuel prices and an increase of risk allowance for health workers.
"I am also directing the treasury to do the following. One, reduce the salaries of the president, cabinet ministers and deputy ministers by 10 percent for three months and direct the resources to the fight against the Corona various," Mutharika said.
Government records show that Mutharika earns about $3,600 a month while his ministers earn about $1,073.
The vice president has also pledged to donate his estimated $1,266 monthly salary for the next three months.
However, some critics say the wage cuts are too small. The president, vice president and cabinet members earn large sums of money beyond their salaries through allowances and other benefits.
Humphreys Mvula is a social commentator based in Blantyre.
"The money is peanuts. In my view I would love to see the president and the group look at cutting down expenditures incurred; cost of fuel, cost of telephones, cost of huge fuel bills," said Mvula. "And why can't they look at an amount which is bigger that should really be seen as serious contribution?"
Mvula said the government should also consider extending the wage cuts to all other political appointees on the public payroll.
Political analyst Vincent Kondowe supports the wage cut but questions how such funds will be directed to the fight against COVID-19.
"Are these resources which are going to be released from salary cuts going to reach the vulnerable people and cushion them against the negative impact that has come about because of COVID-19? History teaches us how [good] intentions by government have not ended up bearing any fruits," said Kondowe.
Citing the coronavirus, the government on Tuesday indefinitely suspended voter registration for the presidential election slated for July 2.
So far, officials have not changed the election date. The poll is a re-run of last year's election, which the Constitutional Court nullified, citing massive irregularities.