Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Should President Joyce Banda resign as Malawi goes for elections?

Sunduzwayo Madise

There has been debate in the media following a press conference by some civil society activists that President Joyce Banda and her running mate should resign, quoting section 80(7)(e) of the Constitution of Malawi which provides "No person shall be eligible for nomination as a candidate for President or … Vice President  if that person  is the holder of a public office or a member of Parliament, unless that person first resigns"

However Section 83(1) of the Constitution of Malawi on tenure of office [of the President] reads "The President [shall hold office for five years... but] shall continue in office until his or her successor has been sworn in"

Now are these two provisions contradictory. On the face of it they may appear so but any crash course in introduction to law will tell you that the Constitution [statute] must be interpreted as a whole. One cannot use one section of the Constitution to contradict another; constitutional provisions reinforce each other.

But are we on new ground here? Definitely not. We have been here before and the Courts have already ruled on the matter. When a similar issue arose after the first multi-party elections, this is what the High Court said in Fred Nseula versus Attorney General- Civil Cause Number 63 of 1996, Principal Registry (unreported):
"For now I should deal with the second argument which is that if the Office of President is a public office, it means that when continuing a second term, since he is a public officer, he has to resign his office. This argument cannot hold. This is a general provision. Then there are specific provisions relating to the President’s re-election (Section 83(3)). There are provisions about the President continuing up to his end of the term (Section 83(2)). Since the Constitution specifically provides that a President can serve a second term, this general provision cannot displace the specific provision." 

Note that in 1998 the Constitution was amended and the sections moved so that the contents of Section 83(2) are now in Section 83(1). Therefore to the assertion that there is a legal issue here one would answer the matter is res judicata

Fall in interest rates

Sunduzwayo Madise

Although the Reserve Bank of Malawi (the central bank) has maintained the 25% base rate, National Bank of Malawi has reduced its lending later from 40% to 36% (still high one might add) and other players in the money market are expected to follow suit. So those who have loans with banks and have had an increase in the repayments should see a [small] decrease in the amounts.

With news that the price of maize has plummeted even before the harvest [season] has started, [from a peak of K9,000 to K5,000 per 50kg bag] the forecast is that the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a measure of inflation, will fall gradually over the on-coming months, especially as surplus in maize pushes prices further down. This is because maize contributes a great deal (%-wise) to the CPI basket and is only balanced by fuel. Therefore watch the stability of the Kwacha and the fuel prices. Malawi's economy being agro-based reacts strongly to the agricultural season. Maize availability just before harvest also shows that the country, as a country, may not have had a maize shortfall after all and the apparent shortfall could have been due to distribution networks bottlenecks or hoarding. In fact it would seem there are pockets in Malawi which always have surplus maize and pockets that always are in deficit. This is an area which the old Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation  (ADMARC) was good at. It had area markets that collected [bought] surplus food. Then some of the surplus was sent to the district storage. But there was enough left at the local market to cater for times when the food reserves in the homesteads have dwindled. At the district, a reserve was left for the district needs and the rest sent to the regional reserves. From the region the surplus was moved to the national reserves (leading to the birth of the silos). In this way maize could easily be moved and distributed. The problem was not in commercializing ADMARC per se, but not in ensuring that even after commercializing, a distribution network still existed. Therefore some form of regulatory framework in this area was/is needed.

But are the interest low enough to get loan? At 36% they are not. This is because the economy was expected to grow by 5% in 2013 and rebound to 6% in 2014. In terms therefore of an investment environment for business, unless one is in the katapila [usury] or like business (or some specialized high end business or engaged in a niche enterprise), borrowing for business may be suicidal. We need the interest to come to under 20% in the medium term and at least under 10% in the long term to make borrowing beneficial to the entrepreneur. However as we go to the elections, watch out for treasury borrowing and if Dr Mkwezalamba [Minister of Finance] does not hold on to his reigns hard, all these gains may quickly be lost!

Paladin spills Uranium in Karonga

Sunduzwayo Madise

Let me start by some basic nuclear physics to put my argument in context. Uranium contains [high] ionising radiation. Ionising radiation is radiation that can change the composition of living material, It can lead to mutation of genes, which may be genetically passed on to off-springs. Half-life is the time it takes a radioactive material to reduce it to have its strength at the time of counting. The substance does this by decaying. For uranium 238 this is a whooping  4.47 billion years and 704 million for Uranium 235. Uranium 238 comprises 99+% and Uranium 235 comprise under 1% of the naturally occurring uranium. When the uranium decays, it slowly emits alpha particles and it is the alpha particles that 'interfere with your body and living tissue! It is these particles that cause cause your cells to change and mutate. It is these particles that can burn you re sterilize you! In comparison X-rays are low energy radiation. The rays bombard your body and the picture is capture on film. The way your body matter interacts with the x-tays will show what the x-ray has passed through. That is why pregnant women are not allowed to be x-rayed! It is to protect the foetus from the harmful ionising radiation!

There is therefore a reason why Uranium mining is sensitive business. Uranium is used to produce nuclear bombs through a process called fission. This is achieved by splitting the Uranium nucleus into smaller nuclei and in the process releasing a lot of energy. This is usually done through a process of enriching the uranium, making it more potent. The energy released by fission can also be used and harnessed to supply power. the major industries of the world use uranium power power plants. The accident that happened in Chernobyl is a good example of why this invisible stuff is not to be messed with. Decades late, the Chenoboly reactor still lies up in a catacomb and the surrounding town is still a no-go zone, the living tissues therein still reeking radiation!

So the story that mining giant Paladin had a spill of Uranium in Karonga should not be taken lightly. One cannot see or smell Uranium. Therefore it is not good enough to say, the soil around the spill was collected and removed. What else has been done? What has the Environmental Department done? And this raises the question, how safe is the means of transportation of the Uranium from Karonga, in Malawi by road to Walvis Bay in Namibia? And is there any pro-processing of the Uranium ore? If the container can puncture in such a relatively 'small' accident, what about if it was vehicular to vehicular accident or worse? What mechanisms are there to combat any radiation fall-out?

I think it is time to restart the Uranium debate in earnest, and this time the safety of Malawians and those countries where the Uranium passes through must be our focus.