Malawi president Joyce Banda has hinted that she will not halt people from holding demonstrations saying it is their constitutional right, but cautioned that they should be mindful of the trend of events the country has gone through.
“I can’t stop people from demonstrating but I believe they understand where we are coming from and the magnitude of the problems that we had in this country.
“I hope the organizers will also be able to tell whether we are trying our level best or not, and how long we told them it will take us to solve these problems,” the president said.
President Banda has dared the demonstrations organizers who are accusing her of implementing policies that have put Malawians in an economic mess- that in as far as she is concerned; her government is doing its best within the stipulated period.
“I told the nation that they should expect some tangible changes in 18 months’ time because the problems that we inherited required time and we are doing our best within the stipulated period.
“The 18 months is not over and why should we not wait a bit to finish the period?” Queried president Banda, challenging; “But if some people think we are not doing enough, then let them march.”
The Malawi leader voiced this during a historic live public discussion hosted by a private broadcaster, Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), declaring she will not backtrack on her economic reforms despite estranging some sections of society.
The president’s remarks come in the wake of demonstration threats from consumers that is being orchestrated by the country’s consumer rights body, the Consumers Association of Malawi (CAMA).
CAMA issued a 14-day ultimatum protesting against rising cost of living, in which among others, calls for an immediate stop of the floating of the kwacha, reduction of both global and domestic travel, and the declaration of assets by the president, her vice and cabinet, sale of the presidential jet, trimming of the cabinet, and salary adjustment of the workers in Malawi.
But the president has argued that considering that when she took over government she found empty coffers and that there were so many problems, Malawians ought to exercise some patience or at least wait for the 18 months period to lapse before throwing spanners at her, claiming she “has in fact not received the petition”.
When she assumed the presidency, Mrs Banda contends that other than the 20-point plan by the civil society organisations that was presented on 20 July 2011, she found many problems left behind by her predecessor, which her government is working on, but as someone who respects human rights, she would not stand in the way of the demonstrators.
ZBS anchored the live programme, the first one of its kind, from Monkey bay, Mangochi at the presidential resort of Chikoko Bay where the state president has been operating from during the Christmas and New Year festive period.
President Banda however sympathizes with those complaining against the demonstrations observing they are small-scale traders who fear this will further disrupt the economy as such type of demonstrations disrupt businesses and that they attract vandals and other people with nasty conceptions.
The president reminded the activists that she is a human being and not a machine that can solve all the problems within the short period she has been in office.
President Banda ascended to the presidency on April 7 2012 after the death of professor Bingu wa Mutharika.
During the Mutharika reign Malawians demonstrated against his economic policies and lack of respect for the rule of the law on July 20 2011 which claimed the lives of 20 people as the law enforcers resorted to confrontation.
With such memories some people are uncertain as to whether the demonstration will really take place, and take place peacefully, as some deem the president’s sentiments as a challenge just as the former head of state did.
“The president’s remarks cannot be shifted far from the angle that late president Mutharika looked at, and that makes some of us who easily read between the lines and look beyond our nose fear for the inevitable.
“Where a government is not just ready to bulge but openly challenges its citizenry too, take caution,” observed one Wajogope Chiwaya, a Blantyre resident.
But CAMA stresses that the demands in the petition are grievances, frustrations and views from consumers throughout the country, the chapters of the Consumers association of Malawi and many partner organisations.
“We are expecting that our demands will be addressed within fourteen days without which we will resort to continued demonstrations throughout the country,” reads the petition in conclusion
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