Malawi’s president has taken a pay cut for a coronavirus fight even as an election do-over looms

Malawi president Peter Mutharika
Malawi president Peter Mutharika
Image: REUTERS/Mike Segar
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Malawi’s president Peter Mutharika and his cabinet ministers announced they’d each be taking a 10% pay-cut for three months as part of the country’s preparation for an economic hit from the global coronavirus pandemic.

Mutharika moved early last month to close schools and large gatherings even before the country had confirmed its first case. The country now has five confirmed Covid-19 cases.

The president has rolled out a string of tax breaks for businesses, a reduction in fuel prices and an increase of risk allowance for health workers. As tobacco is the country’s economic backbone, the president ordered all tobacco markets remain open so as to keep farmers in business.

But even as the uncertainty around the coronavirus outbreak plays out globally and across Africa, Malawi’s politicians have another underlying concern: preparing for a re-do of the annulled presidential election. The May 2019 elections, which supposedly led to a second term for president Mutharika, 79, were vigorously contested by opposition parties last year. Five judges agreed there had been a range of irregularities and canceled the election results in February.

The Malawi Electoral Commission has now confirmed the rescheduled election will still take place on July 2 as planned even though large gatherings have been banned. The commission kickstarted the voter registration exercise on Saturday just two days after the country recorded its first cases of the virus.

The electoral body’s only protective measures so far have included placing a bucket of water at each voting center so every person can wash their hands. The election workers will be provided with masks and hand sanitizers.

Mutharika’s salary is believed to be around $3,600 a month and his ministers take home about $1,073. The country’s estranged vice president Saulos Chilima, who ran against the president last May, has committed to donate 100% of his estimated $1,266. This was revealed a day after Mutharika announced his pay-cut.

However, the dean of commerce at the University of Malawi, the Polytechnic professor Betchani Tcherani applauded the president’s pay-cut gesture but warned that it is still not enough to keep up with the fight against the pandemic.

“It’s good the president has done that but the 10% cut can never be enough because if we are to calculate how much money will be directed to the pandemic fight you will realize that it is just a drop in the ocean.” said Tcherani

It is expected to be a difficult time  for the country’s economy to keep up during the global economic crisis as Malawi, already one of the world’s poorest countries, heavily relies on trade, with most goods imported.

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