Joyce Banda starts cleaning up Capital Hill

Malawi’s newly inaugurated President Joyce Banda has dived into stormy waters to save the drowning Malawi economy through foreign and domestic policy actions to unlock aid, improve people’s lives and clean-up the Capital Hill machinery.

Donors, who traditionally contribute about 40 percent to the country’s national budget, froze budget support last year, thereby causing fiscal and foreign currency imbalances that resulted in drastic public expenditure cuts and Malawi’s failure to import critical goods such as fuel and drugs.

Since taking over the presidency on Saturday, Banda has launched a diplomatic offensive to repair the damage that her late predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika inflicted on the country over the past two years.

The President has also started uprooting symbols of bad economic and political governance by sacking and planning to fire key figures that were at the centre of what most people saw as maladministration and autocracy.

Diplomatic victories

Banda has already chalked some diplomatic victories.

On Tuesday, she announced that the United Kingdom (UK) will soon send a High Commissioner to reset the two countries’ bilateral relations that soured after Mutharika expelled London’s envoy to Malawi Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, for branding the fallen Malawi leader a dictator in a leaked diplomatic cable.

Banda was speaking at a news conference in Lilongwe to update Malawians on her work as President so far.

"I am personally committed to ensuring that Malawi addresses the issues that negatively affected our relations. I have been assured of the British Government’s commitment to send a new British envoy to Malawi within the shortest time possible," the President said of her telephone discussions with the UK Minister for Africa in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Henry Bellingham.

Banda also said she spoke with United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to whom she delivered Malawi’s concerns over the suspension of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact and asked Washington to consider lifting the suspension.

She said Clinton promised to ensure that discussions on the $350 million energy grant resumes as soon as possible and that she was scheduled to speak with Millennium Challenge Account chief executive officer Daniles Yhanes later Tuesday afternoon.

The President said she was also yet to speak to European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Baroness Ashton.

But she planned to meet IMF Resident Representative to Malawi Ruby Randall Tuesday evening.

"We want to restore the rule of law and democratic principles, respect for human rights and freedoms as guaranteed by our Constitution and demonstrate good economic governance. My starting point is to make sure Malawi has a programme with the IMF," said the President.

Banda said she has spoken to Zambian president Michael Sata and the two touched base on the need to ensure that Lilongwe and Lusaka work closely as they depend on each other.

Changes in government

On changes in government, the President said Reserve Bank of Malawi Governor Perks Ligoya continues to hold the office, but said administrative changes were going on.

She, however, said changes at Principal Secretary level are the domain of the Chief Secretary to the Government.

"If I perceive that a Secretary to the Treasury or a Principal Secretary can perform better elsewhere, transfers might be effected, but as of now that is the domain of the Chief Secretary," said Banda, on reports that several offices had been sealed and occupiers re-deployed.

An earlier visit to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning showed that Secretary to the Treasury Joseph Mwanamvekha was not in his office, with his staff almost in a celebratory mood and eager to escort our crew to his office to prove that he was no longer there. His firing was announced on Zodiak radio last evening.

Employees from the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) were also in a carnival mood at the sacking of chief executive officer Bright Malopa, with many posting on social media "that [chickens] have come home to roost".

Benson Tembo has since replaced Malopa.

Banda also confirmed the firing of Patricia Kaliati as Information and Civic Education Minister, replacing her with DPP’s Hope Alliance leader Moses Kunkuyu.

On Sunday, barely 24 hours after ascending to the presidency, Banda sacked Police Inspector General Peter Mukhito and replaced him with long-time police commissioner Loti Dzonzi to spruce up the country’s governance image after Mukhito presided over police brutality against citizens, including shooting dead of 20 July 2011 20 demonstrators.

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