Malawi Leader Mutharika Vows to End Graft While Driving Growth

Malawi’s newly elected president, Peter Mutharika, pledged to target 7.5 percent annual growth over the next five years and fight corruption during a speech at his inauguration.

Mutharika, who defeated former president Joyce Banda in a contested election on May 20, said today his government will also focus on investing in infrastructure and improving food supplies in a country where about half of the population lives on less than $1 a day.

“The economy of this country has collapsed, our civil servants aren’t working, the private sector isn’t working and our children aren’t going to school,” he said at the Kamuzu Stadium in the commercial capital, Blantyre.

Mutharika, 74, pledged to prosecute anyone guilty of corruption and make efforts to recoup money stolen during the “Cashgate” scandal, in which 13.5 billion Malawi kwacha ($34 million) disappeared from government coffers between April and the end of September 2013. Banda, who earlier called for a new election because of what she termed “rampant irregularities,” didn’t attend the innauguration.

Mutharika’s election victory probably won’t herald a return of foreign aid that was suspended over corruption fears last year, according to Robert Besseling, an analyst with IHS Country Risk in London. Before it was cut, donor assistance financed about 40 percent of the budget.

“Foreign aid is unlikely to be restored in 2014,” he said today in an e-mailed statement. “Non-payment risk to the tobacco and construction sectors, which are contracted by the state, will be high through 2014.”

Mutharika served in the cabinet of his brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, whose death in office in April 2012 led to his deputy, Banda, becoming president.

Malawi is Africa’s biggest exporter of burley tobacco, a low-grade variety of the crop, and Limbe Leaf Tobacco Co., a unit of U.S.-based Universal Corp. buys the crop alongside companies like Alliance One International Inc. and Japan Tobacco Inc.

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