We are five days into the New Year 2017 and, as they say better late than never, I feel it is not too late to wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New Year.
This being my first entry of the year, I thought it would be in order to relook where we missed it in the past year and what we need to do to make the most in terms of service delivery this year and beyond.
In the past year, our economy continued to struggle with growth revised downwards from 5.1 percent to 2.8 percent largely on account of negative impacts of harsh weather that eroded efforts towards making gains. This was the second year in a row for our economic growth forecast to be revised downwards.
During the same year, inflation rate-the pace at which prices of goods and services go up-was in reduction mode from 25 percent-plus to 19.9 percent as of New Year’s Eve or close of the calendar year.
Being a largely agro-based economy, Malawi’s economic growth is generally influenced or affected by external factors, most notably weather as seen in recent years. Whether it is excessive rains or drought, Malawi loses out. Pundits have argued for intensification of irrigation farming as a solution to minimise huge cost of importing food to meet the deficit that is now being created year in and year out.
Service delivery has been another thorn in the flesh. On the brighter side, many businesses have invested in technology to give customers some convenience to undertake transactions at will.
With technology, today one does not need to hop from one service provider to another making payments for utilities such as water and electricity. They can do it from any corner of the country using their mobile phone if they are subscribed to electronic cash wallets such as Airtel Money and TNM’s Mpamba. The two platforms also enable subscribers to receive and transfer money. What’s more, in some cases, bank accounts can be linked to the platforms, especially Airtel Money, thereby enhancing convenience.
Commercial banks also intensified innovations in mobile and cashless banking through points of sale (PoS) devices. However, with PoS the challenge has been reliability. Many times the devices could not finalise transactions, embarrassing card users in merchant shops. Personally, on several occasions, I had to queue at the nearby automated teller machine (ATM) to withdraw funds and make payments after being frustrated by PoS devices.
In 2017, commercial banks should work with their partners to improve network connectivity to back-up their electronic banking technologies and give customers a better deal.
ATMs continued to break down when it is the end of the month. In some cases, some banks would service the machines at peak hours, leaving customers helpless. This should change in 2017. Find better time, even at midnight, to undertake such servicing errands.
Telecommunications operators were yet another let down. Dropped calls were on the rise. Besides, data bundles designed to save users’ costs when surfing the Internet or interacting on social media platforms expired faster than they were bought. I had my own experience and I know of several colleagues who sailed in the same bought. Airtel Malawi was the major culprit of the “evaporating” bundles, in my view.
When all is said and done, it is high time Malawians consumers demanded the best from service providers. Consumers should stop suffering in silence and demand that what they pay for matches with the service they get.
The kuno ndi ku Malawi zimakhala choncho (that is how things work in Malawi) mentality will not improve things. In the New Year 2017, service providers should aim higher and consumers should demand the best.
Once more, Happy New Year! n