Malawi President Working to Trim Executive Powers

Malawi’s new president Lazarus Chakwera says he is working on proposing legislation aimed at trimming his presidential powers in an effort to empower the citizens. In his national address Saturday, Chakwera said having a president who makes too many decisions has created problems in Malawi and this has led to government mismanagement in the past.
 
Trimming presidential powers was among the campaign promises Chakwera made during political rallies that helped him defeat former President Peter Mutharika in the June 23 presidential election re-run.    
 
In his address, Chakwera said the president has too much appointing authority and responsibilities that he says bring him into conflict.
 
 “Having a presidency that makes too many decisions has created problems for our country for a long time. Chief among them is that it has stifled a culture of responsibility and innovation among public institutions and private citizens,” he said.
 
Chakwera compared the running of the government to how parents run family affairs.
 
“Even as parents in our homes, we know that rigidly concentrating too much decision-making power in the parents hinders a child’s ability to develop critical life skills. This is a mistake we must stop making at a national level,” he said.
 
Chakwera faulted the present arrangement which puts the president as an appointing authority for top positions in the judiciary, legislature, executive, boards of statutory corporations, foreign embassies, and traditional leadership.
 
“This is unwise. No person is good or humble enough to be entrusted with that much appointing power, for it is not possible for a president to be the appointing authority of that many offices without at some point coming face to face with a conflict of interest,” he said.
 
Social commentator Humphrey Mvula supports the move, saying excess presidential powers have long made the presidents in Malawi not accountable to anyone.
    
“They have done what they so wished. They employed cronies, relatives, home-mates, tribesmen and all manner of individuals because there is no vetting process. They have decided to vary rules and regulations at whim,” Myula said.
   
Critics argue reducing powers would render the president useless, if he just becomes a mere rubber stamp at the expense of pleasing citizens.
 
However, Edge Kanyongolo a, legal expert at the University of Malawi, disagrees. He said trimming presidential powers is the only thing Malawi can do to consolidate its democracy.   
    
“People who are talking about ‘maybe a president could become a rubberstamp,’ I suspect they may be people who may be more inclined towards an authoritarian president who exercises [a] heavy hand, and I think that is inconsistent with democracy. So I think that it is not true to say that limiting the powers of [the] president renders the presidency powerless,” Kanyongolo said.
 
Meanwhile, Chakwera has asked Malawians to demand from their members of Parliament to vote for the changes once the proposed legislation is presented in the legislature.
 

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White House, Democrats at Odds Over Trump’s Coronavirus Aid Orders

As the United States surpassed five million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, talks on Capitol Hill for a new coronavirus relief bill remain at an impasse, leading President Donald Trump to sign several executive orders to benefit Americans. VOA’s Esha Sarai has more.

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White House, Democrats Spar Over Trump Coronavirus Aid Orders 

The White House and top Democratic lawmakers sparred Sunday over President Donald Trump’s executive orders to extend expired benefits to tens of millions of American workers left unemployed by the coronavirus pandemic and defer payroll taxes for many workers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, called Trump’s action “meager, weak and unconstitutional” in an interview on the “Fox News Sunday” show. She said it “will take a while to put money into the pockets of Americans” and again called for the White House to “meet us halfway” on new spending to assist the more than 30 million workers who remain unemployed and state and municipal governments that need more aid. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, right, walk out of a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, Aug. 7, 2020.Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Trump’s orders on Saturday were “not his first choice,” but blamed Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer for the collapse of two weeks of talks on a coronavirus aid package. “I’ve told them anytime they have a proposal, I’m willing to talk,” Mnuchin said. He said the White House is willing to provide more aid for state and local governments “but not a trillion dollars” that Democrats are seeking. Schumer, on ABC’s “This Week” show, described Trump’s directives as “faulty,” “unworkable,” “weak” and “far too narrow” a solution to assist the flagging U.S. economy and the economic needs of millions of out-of-work Americans.  U.S. President Donald Trump shows signed executive orders for economic relief during a news conference amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Aug. 8, 2020.”The event at the country club is just what Trump does — a big show, but it doesn’t do anything,” Schumer said. “If the American people look at these executive orders, they’ll see that they don’t come close to doing the job.” In the fruitless negotiations, Democrats sought to extend the $600-a-week federal government boost to less generous state unemployment benefits through the end of 2020 after they expired at the end of July. Trump cut the figure to $400 and said states should pay $100 of that amount. “States don’t have the money to do that,” Pelosi said. Mnuchin countered that the states do have such funds “from money we already gave the states” from previous coronavirus aid legislation that has yet to be spent.   Trump and White House officials expect his orders will be contested in court suits since under U.S. law, Congress must approve spending legislation. It cannot be done by presidential fiat, although Mnuchin said Trump’s actions were cleared by his legal advisers. Asked whether he considers the Trump orders legal, Schumer replied, “Well, you know, I’ll leave that up to the attorneys. It doesn’t do the job … it’s not going to go into effect in most places for weeks or months because it’s so put together in a crazy way.” FILE – Motorists take part in a caravan protest in front of Senator John Kennedy’s office at the Hale Boggs Federal Building asking for the extension of the $600 in unemployment benefits in New Orleans, La., July 22, 2020.He said the $600-a-week unemployment payments would have continued to “flow smoothly” had the president acted to continue them. Many Republican lawmakers have protested that the amount was too big, in many cases more than workers were being paid before they were laid off. Pelosi told CNN, “We’re at a stalemate because Republicans have never understood the gravity… of the pandemic.”  The spread of the pandemic remains unchecked in the U.S. with the country’s number of confirmed cases topping 5 million on Sunday and the death toll more than 162,000. Both figures are the biggest national totals across the globe. Trump signed his orders at a golf resort he owns in New Jersey and justified cutting the unemployment aid from $600 a week to $400.  “This is the money [unemployed workers] need, this is the money they want, this gives them an incentive to go back to work,” Trump said. But he left it up to the states to decide how much to actually send unemployed workers, so the benefits could be smaller still. U.S. President Donald Trump signs executive measures for economic relief during a news conference amid the spread of the coronavirus disease, at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., Aug. 8, 2020.In one of the other orders, Trump suspended 7.65% payroll taxes for workers who make less than $100,000 a year through the end of 2020. Unemployed workers, who do not pay the tax because they aren’t collecting a paycheck, won’t benefit. The taxes are used to fund pensions and health care for older Americans. The money would need to be paid back eventually unless Congress acts to write off the deferred taxes.  “This fake tax cut would also be a big shock to workers who thought they were getting a tax cut when it was only a delay,” said one Trump critic, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. “These workers would be hit with much bigger payments down the road.” Trump also said he was extending protections for tenants threatened with eviction and further delaying student loan payments and zero percent interest on federally financed loans. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, Trump’s opponent in the Nov. 3 national election, called the orders a “series of half-baked measures” and accused Trump of putting Social Security pensions “at grave risk” by delaying the collection of payroll taxes that pay for the program. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Saturday, “Struggling Americans need action now. Since Democrats have sabotaged backroom talks with absurd demands that would not help working people, I support President Trump exploring his options to get unemployment benefits and other relief to the people who need them the most.”   

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US Officially Passes 5 Million Coronavirus Cases 

The United States surpassed five million coronavirus cases on Sunday, the most in the world. The figures were released Sunday by Johns Hopkins University, which said the U.S. death toll is above 162,000. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has released a model predicting nearly 300,000 deaths by December 1 if Americans don’t start consistently wearing face masks.   IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray said in a statement that if 95% of Americans started wearing masks, more than 66,000 lives would be saved. Meanwhile, Brazil has become the second country in the world to pass 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus, second to the United States. FILE – Nurse Eva Fiori updates a medical record of a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Emilio Ribas Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 17, 2020.Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, said last week he had “a clear conscience” despite the toll. Bolsonaro himself survived COVID-19 last month and said he had done “everything possible to save lives.” Because of insufficient tests, experts say, the number of Brazilians with the virus could be six times higher. Mexico’s Health Ministry reported nearly 6,500 new COVID infections Saturday and almost 700 deaths. Mexico follows only the U.S. and Brazil in the numbers of COVID deaths.  Mexico has more than 46,000 COVID deaths, according to John Hopkins University data.   In France, the government ordered face masks must be worn outside in busy areas  — except around some tourist sites, including the Eiffel Tower. The government said the French tourism industry has lost at least $35-$47 billion due to the health crisis. A man wearing a masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 crosses the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, Aug 9, 2020.”The French are participating massively in the revival of the tourism sector by favoring France,” and 70% of those who have gone on vacation have chosen to stay in their country, Secretary of State for Tourism Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche. New mask mandates went into effect Saturday in Britain where people are now required to wear masks in most indoor settings. In England and Scotland, masks must be worn in places of worship, banks, libraries and in many other indoor places. Masks were already required in shops and on public transit, but more stringent measures were imposed to contain a surge in coronavirus infections in Britain after easing lockdown requirements. A sign helps passengers to find the COVID-19 test center at the airport Tegel in Berlin, Germany, Aug. 8, 2020.Travelers arriving in Germany from most non-European countries and regions within the European Union with high infection rates must now undergo testing for the coronavirus Travelers from high-risk areas were previously required to self-quarantine for 14 days or until they could produce a negative test.  Australia recorded 404 new cases Sunday — 10 in New South Wales and 394 in Victoria.  Seventeen deaths were reported in Victoria.   New Zealand reports it has experienced 100 days of zero community transmission of the coronavirus.  

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Indigenous Peoples Face Critical Threat from COVID-19 as Cultural, Political Rights Erode 

The United Nations warns COVID-19 poses a critical threat to hundreds of millions of indigenous people worldwide.   To mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling on countries to respond to their needs and to respect their cultural, social and political rights.  
Many of the more than 476 million indigenous people around the world now live in remote locations.  Their traditional way of life and distance from heavily populated areas have largely insulated them from many diseases commonly circulating.  However, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres notes that throughout history, indigenous peoples have been decimated by diseases brought from elsewhere, to which they had no immunity.  Unfortunately, the coronavirus is following the same trajectory.   FILE – Indigenous people from Yanomami ethnic group are seen, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease, at the 4th Surucucu Special Frontier Platoon of the Brazilian army in municipality of Alto Alegre, state of Roraima, Brazil, July 1, 2020The U.N. chief says the inequalities, stigmatization and discrimination to which indigenous peoples are subjected are helping to spread the coronavirus through their communities.  He says limited access to healthcare, clean water and sanitation makes it difficult to contain the disease.    “Indigenous peoples work primarily in traditional occupations and subsistence economies or in the informal sector,” he said. “They have all been adversely affected by the pandemic.  Indigenous women, who are often the main providers of food and nutrition for their families, have been particularly hard hit with the closures of markets for handicrafts, produce and other goods.”    The U.N. reports COVID-19 has infected more than 70,000 indigenous people in the Americas, the epicenter of the pandemic.  Among them, it says are nearly 23,000 members of 190 indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin.  More than 1,000 have lost their lives.   The Amazon and other tropical forests that are home to indigenous peoples have suffered environmental damage and economic deprivation.  Guterres says these people are at the forefront in demanding environmental and climate action to protect their precious reserves. FILE – In this file photo United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference at the African Union headquarters during the 33rd African Union (AU) Summit on Feb. 8, 2020, in Addis Ababa.“Lapsed enforcement of environmental protections during the crisis has brought increasing encroachment on indigenous peoples’ territories by illegal miners and loggers.  Many indigenous people have been victims of threats and violence, and many have lost their lives in the face of such threats,” he said.     The United Nations says indigenous peoples will have a better chance of tackling the coronavirus if they can exercise their rights to self-government and self-determination.   The world body is calling for universal respect and protection of their inalienable rights.      

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US Health and Human Services Secretary Visits Taiwan

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar arrived in Taiwan Sunday, leading a U.S. delegation for a three-day visit during which he will meet President Tsai Ing-wen.FILE – Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a roundtable discussion with President Donald Trump on the coronavirus outbreak and storm preparedness at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida, July 31, 2020.This is the highest-level visit by an American official since the break in diplomatic relations between Washington and Taipei in 1979.The visit comes as relations between the United States and China have plunged to historic lows.China objects to official contact between the U.S. and Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory, while the Taiwanese president has strongly advocated Taiwan’s recognition as a sovereign nation.Beijing has strongly and repeatedly objected to recognition of self-ruled Taiwan and has vowed to seize the island by force if necessary.Last week, China described Azar’s visit as a threat to “peace and stability,” while its defense minister warned against “dangerous moves” by Washington.Washington has said the Taiwan trip is an opportunity to learn from the island’s success story in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and to acknowledge its progressive values.”This trip is a recognition of Taiwan’s success in combating COVID-19 and a testament to the shared beliefs that open and democratic societies are best equipped to combating disease threats like COVID-19,” a Health and Human Services official said to reporters before the trip.Taiwan has recorded fewer than 500 COVID-19 cases and only seven deaths. 

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French President Hosts International Conference to Raise Funds for Lebanon

French President Emmanuel Macron will host a U.N.-backed international donors’ virtual conference Sunday to raise funds for Lebanon following a massive blast at the port of Beirut last week that killed at least 158 people and injured about 6,000 others.U.S. President Donald Trump announced his participation in a tweet Friday, after he talked with Macron and his Lebanese counterpart, Michel Aoun, tweeting that “everyone wants to help!””We will be having a conference call on Sunday with President Macron, leaders of Lebanon, and leaders from various other parts of the world,” he said.In the meantime, the U.S. has delivered emergency aid to Lebanon, starting with food, water, and medical supplies, under Trump’s direction. Initially it has pledged more than $17 million in disaster aid for the country.In other developments, Lebanese security forces fired tear gas Saturday at thousands of demonstrators who gathered in Beirut’s main square to protest the government’s management of the recent explosion that devastated large parts of the city.At the beginning of a planned protest, a small group of men started throwing stones at security forces as they tried to jump over barriers blocking entry to the parliament building. Police responded by firing tear gas at the protesters.A police spokesman said an officer was killed during scuffles. A police officer at the scene said that the officer died after falling down an elevator shaft when he was chased by protesters into a building in the area.The demonstrators also stormed the foreign ministry building while others in Martyrs Square set up symbolic nooses for politicians and chanted “the people want the fall of the regime.”The protesters later set fire to a truck that was reinforcing barriers on a street leading to the parliament building.The Lebanese Red Cross said more than a dozen protesters were hospitalized and scores of others received medical treatment on the scene.The protest, the first significant demonstration since the explosion, occurred amid mounting anger at Lebanon’s political leadership.The country’s leaders have been accused of widespread corruption and incompetence that contributed to Tuesday’s devastating explosion.Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Friday he will draft legislation calling for early elections and is willing to remain in the position for two months to allow political leaders time to implement structural reforms.The head of the Kataeb Party, Sami Gemayal, told mourners at the funeral of party Secretary-General Nazar Najarian Saturday that he was withdrawing three party members from parliament in the wake of the fallout from the explosion.Progressive Socialist Party and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt told Arab media he was calling for early parliamentary elections and that protesters have the right to demand that political leaders resign.Jumblatt said, however, it is up to Christian protesters and Christian political parties to call for an end to the mandate of President Michel Aoun.Christian political leader Samir Geagea has also called for early parliamentary elections but stopped short of withdrawing his party’s members from parliament.The U.S. Embassy in Beirut said Saturday the U.S. government backs the demonstrators’ rights to peaceful protest and is urging them to “refrain from violence.” In a tweet, the embassy also said the Lebanese people “deserved leaders who listen to them and change course to respond to popular demands for transparency and accountability.”

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Esper: ‘Less Than 5,000’ US Troops in Afghanistan by End of November

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be reduced to “a number less than 5,000” by the end of November.The reduction in force comment was made by the defense chief in an interview broadcast Saturday on Fox News.Earlier last week, President Donald Trump said in an interview with Axios that he would like to see the approximately 8,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan decreased by “anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000.”  

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UK Armed Forces Asked to Help Deal With Migrant Boats Crossing Channel

Britain’s armed forces have been asked to help deal with boats carrying migrants across the Channel from France, the Defense Ministry said Saturday after a spate of arrivals on the southern English coast.Taking advantage of a spell of hot weather and calm seas, hundreds of people including children and pregnant women have made the dangerous 33-km (21-mile) crossing in recent days, many in overloaded rubber dinghies and other small vessels.The Defense Ministry said it had received a formal request from the Home Office, or interior ministry, to assist the UK Border Force with its operations in the Dover Straits.”We are assessing the requirements … and are working hard to identify how we can most effectively assist,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.A Home Office spokeswoman declined to comment.300-plus arrivalsMore than 200 people arrived on the English coast on Thursday, followed by 130 on Friday, and media reported more arrivals on Saturday as the hot weather persisted.A junior Home Office minister in charge of immigration compliance, Chris Philp, called the rise in arrivals “shameful” and sought to put pressure on France ahead of a meeting with his French counterpart in Paris next week.”The French need to stop these illegal migrants from getting in the water in the first place,” he said in an opinion column published in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, adding that Britain would seek to return to France those who made it across.France’s interior ministry said surveillance teams on the northern coast were intercepting migrants daily and it had mobilized extra resources. It said five times as many migrant boats had been caught between January and July as were caught during the same period in 2019.FILE – French gendarmes patrol the beach in Ambleteuse near Calais, northern France, Jan. 18, 2019, looking to halt migrants’ bid to cross the English Channel.”This is a joint problem … which needs a joint operational response,” a spokesman said.The Sunday Telegraph reported that France would ask Britain to pay 30 million pounds ($39.12 million) to police the English Channel and that the UK had not yet decided whether to accept that demand.’Not a crisis’Uncontrolled arrivals of asylum-seekers and migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia have long been a source of tension between European countries struggling to find an effective joint response.Britain left the European Union in January and a transition period during which most EU rules and accords are still in force will end December 31, which could further complicate cooperation with EU member France.Immigration has been an especially polarizing issue in Britain since the Brexit referendum in 2016 because “taking back control” of immigration and border policy was presented as one of the key advantages by pro-Brexit campaigners.Home Secretary Priti Patel, an enthusiastic Brexiteer, made the link in a tweet on Friday about the Channel crossings: “I know that when the British people say they want to take back control of our borders, this is exactly what they mean.”Critics such as groups campaigning for the rights of immigrants and refugees accuse the government of stoking some voters’ xenophobic fears by magnifying the issue.”Britain is better than this. The arrival of small numbers of people by boat is not a crisis,” said Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, who urged the government to focus on the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis.The numbers crossing the Channel are tiny compared with the flows of people who try to reach EU countries such as Malta, Greece, Italy and Spain every year by crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa or Turkey, thousands of them dying on the way.

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