Declaration of interest: Randson Mwadiwa was my boss, the man I directly reported to when I was public relations specialist for the Ministry of Finance. I was particularly closeâ€”both personally and professionally based on mutual respectâ€”to the former and now â€˜newâ€™ Secretary to the Treasury (ST) than any other superior I have ever worked with. In the unlikely event that my views are seen as biased, at least I have declared my interest, whatever that may be perceived to be.
The point is that newly-inaugurated President Joyce Bandaâ€™s choice of ST to replace the divisive Joseph Mwamvekha reflects, at this stage, her priorities and governing style. Banda, it is clear, gets it that the most important task at the moment is to breathe and restore confidence in the countryâ€™s economy, particularly governmentâ€™s public finance and economic management architecture.
I have always regarded whoever holds the STâ€™s office as the Principal Secretary (PS) for every government department, only second to the Chief Secretary in importance and functionality.
Thus, the STâ€™s office needs more than a technician in budgeting and general Treasury management. It also needs an accomplished public administrator with a moderate temperament who is articulate enough to have his or her instructions fully spelt out instead of ending in mid-sentence.
That person is Mwadiwa and he has a truck-load of achievements to vindicate the Presidentâ€™s confidence in him.
He, together with then Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe, successfully implemented the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-supported Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGC) between 2006 and 2009 and led the country in attaining Highly Indebted Poor Countriesâ€™ (Hipc) Completion Point that made multilateral creditors to cancel 90 percent of Malawiâ€™s debts in 2006.
The duo later negotiated and brilliantly executed the one-year Exogenous Shocks Facility (ESF) between December 2008 and December 2009 that to some extent helped Malawi escape the second and third round effects of the global financial crisis that wreaked world economies.
He also left behind the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) that was messed up on Mwanamvekha and Ken Kandodoâ€™s watch and which Mwadiwa has to clean upâ€”a specialty the battle-scarred â€˜Mr Fix-itâ€™ seems to relish.
Probably one of Mwadiwaâ€™s most important assets is the credibility he has with donors. He earned their respect during the earlier spell as ST where he maintained a steady flow of foreign aid.
Donors describe him as a tough negotiator who knows his stuff well; a good listener whose bluntness they appreciate but which are usually misinterpreted locally as arrogance, yet they hide a savvy and likable diplomat with a razor-sharp brain.
At Treasury, Mwadiwa, whose major hobby is avoiding the limelight, was liked and respected for his tough but fair treatment of staff and his ability to get the best out of his team without throwing his weight around or using bullying tactics and powerful connections. His return is a huge morale booster to most Treasury staffers.
Mwadiwaâ€™s frugal management of the public purse helped the country reduce the domestic debt from around 25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2005 to 11.5 percent by 2009.
As ST, Mwadiwaâ€”a one-time budget directorâ€”presided over one of the most sustained growth rates in the countryâ€™s history, averaging seven percent per year for five years.
During his absence, GDP growth rates steadily dipped, including a slowing down to an estimated 4.5 percent in 2011. The domestic debt ratio also climbed back above 20 percent as public spending went out of control and the zero-deficit experiment exploded into insignificant bits of revenue that could not keep up with the growing expenditure appetite on the back of a foreign donor aid freeze.
Mwadiwa is also a determined reformer, having spearheaded the overhaul of public finance and economic management systems across government. He also aggressively oversaw much needed budget and public service pay reforms that helped narrow the gap between top earning technocrats and those at the bottom. If there is anyone who can turn around the countryâ€™s fortunes, the media-shy Mwadiwa is the man.
Let me now condole the Mutharikas and Malawians on the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika. He was not my choice of president but I did work for his administration. He also did some good things for the country, but was behind some of the worst.
Congratulations are also in order to President Banda on her ascendancy to Head of State and for the above average start to governing.
From Cut the Chaff, the new President and her team, especially the economic team she is assembling, will not get any honeymoon.
Chaffy policies and behaviour, especially from the Mwadiwa-led Treasury, will be brutally exposed for the good of the country. As I always say, I did not join journalism to win popularity contests, even if the judges are good friends.