Malawi’s finance minister Ken Lipenga has dismissed resignation demands by opposition groups. They accuse him of willfully misleading parliament over the state of the economy. Lipenga said the accusations are politically motivated by opponents to force him out of office.
“The fact is that I did not lie to parliament. The information that I presented to parliament was information that was presented to me using the normal system from the officials. At the time to the best of my knowledge, it was the correct information to present to parliament,” said Lipenga.
The opposition accused Lipenga of lying to the nation when he told a recent parliament budget review session that the government’s “Zero-Deficit Budget” policy (which relies on funds collected from taxes) was a success.
Deceased President Bingu wa Mutharika introduced the Zero-Deficit Budget after donors suspended their financial support — about 40 percent of Malawi’s budget.
Parliamentarian George Mnesa accused the finance minister of deception after Lipenga said the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) collected more than projected revenues of $60million.
Citing evidence, Mnesa contends that figures the finance minister presented were inflated. He charged that the MRA borrowed from commercial banks in a bid to convince citizens that the government was making progress toward fulfilling the zero-deficit budget.
He demanded that the minister and anyone involved in the alleged deception immediately resign.
But, in an interview with VOA, finance minister Lipenga insisted the information he presented to parliament was truthful.
“What I am emphatically stating is that I did not knowingly mislead the national assembly. I did not knowingly present false information to parliament; therefore, in my view there is no basis for the calls,” said Lipenga.
Analysts say the late President Mutharika appointed Lipenga last September when preparations for the review at the finance ministry had begun.
Lipenga insists he did his best to present accurate information to the legislature.
“I had chosen to tell the truth. Previously, I did not have any other information, and it took me sometime to realize that some of the information that I had…were of dubious origin. Therefore, at the time I maintained my integrity and presented facts as I understood them,” continued Lipenga.
“Here they gave me figures that they collected I thought in the normal way and my duty was to present these figures the way I understood them at the time to be correct to the national assembly.”
Lipenga said accusations of deception leveled against him by the opposition as well as a section of the population are unjustified.
Monetary authorities devalued the country’s currency, the kwacha, against the U.S. dollar by nearly 50 percent as part of several of measures to restore donor funding. The move is expected to boost exports by making Malawi-made goods cheaper to buy, but will also likely make fuel and other imported goods more expensive for the average Malawian.
Exporters and commercial farmers who trade in dollars are hailing the move. But opponents called the move a terrible policy forced down the throats of Malawians by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Lipenga admits the controversy surrounding the currency devaluation but insists the government is implementing measures to cushion the negative impact on the poor. He denied the IMF forced Malawi to devalue its currency.
“It’s important to underline that it’s not a measure that has been imposed on us from outside by the IMF,” said Lipenga.
“There was a misalignment and distortions in our economy. We had stuck to a fixed rate for a very long time, and there was no justification for it in terms of how the economy was performing. And there are very few economies in the world today that can justify the fixed rate system.”
Meanwhile, information minister Moses Kunkuyu says after a thorough investigation into the controversy the government will soon make its position known.