Zodiak Broadcasting Station with support from the Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) convened a public debate on Friday, 14th February at Crossroads Hotel. The topic being discussed was: “Should the State President of Malawi (Her Excellence Dr Joyce Banda) be fully involved in the distribution of Maize and flour as it has been the case since October, 2012-February 2013?” The debate was patronized by individuals from various walks of life and was aired live on Zodiak Broadcasting Station. The general public had the opportunity to give in their views through mobile phone messages. Kusamala participated in the negotiations. The panellists leading the negotiations were: Chrispin Magombo representing CISANET, Jolly Kalelo a member of parliament (Malawi Congress Party) and Ulemu Chilapondwa who is the deputy minister of Agriculture and Food Security.
The main argument was “the programme is costly if done by the president”
The Minister stated that “the president is not fully involved but rather she championed the programme. She believes in sharing and therefore wanted to lead by example so that other Malawians can emulate her gesture and share the surplus they have to those that are in need. Prior to the distribution, the president pleaded with Malawians who have surplus maize to give some to this maize and flour distribution programme so that she can direct it to those that are hunger stricken. There was a good response to the plea. Until now the programme has distributed about 200 thousand metric tones of maize. Only 4% of the entire maize is what the president distributed by herself and 96% was distributed by other leaders including members of parliament, chiefs and other government structure.”
From the civil society organizations’ perspective, Magombo stated that “No!!!! it is not right for the president herself to be distributing maize because humanitarian response is done by the Department of Disaster Management Affairs under the Vice President. Furthermore, there are non governmental organizations and UN agencies charged to do the same noble task such as World Food Programme.” He also said, “We the civil society organization understand and fully appreciate the importance of distributing the maize but there is need that it should be done appropriately. There should be a good long term strategy, vision featured in the national agriculture policy which we do not have as a nation until now.” The fact that we do not have a National Agriculture Policy is compromising economic development since Malawi’s economy is agro-based.
From the perspective of an opposition party, Member of parliament Honourable Jolly Saweta Kalelo stated that, “the president should delegate these tasks because her travel is very costly. Some of the government policies are also not helping like the Farm Input Subsidy Program.” He concluded by thanking the president for a good gesture of distributing maize and flour to the hungry. Nevertheless, her involvement is contradicting the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) since it is costing a lot instead of cutting costs. “Lets go back to Kamuza Banda’s universal subsidy, every one should buy fertilizer at a lower price. Lets revamp the farmer clubs that ushered Malawi into food security during Kamuzu’s time.” said Kalelo as he passed on the mic.
All these arguments attracted comments from the general public and participants that patronized the meeting. The general consensus was to use other government structures in the program since the president’s single local travel costs about Kwacha 12 million which is so exorbitant on the tax payer. The deputy minister committed to champion the development of the National Agriculture Policy.