With the advent of multi-party dispensation in 1994, most people heard for the first time the term poverty eradication. It was uttered by donors and international financial institutions which were giving help to Malawi with conditionalities.
At the same time, we were hearing or reading that groups of poor countries to which Malawi belonged, people were living on one dollar a day. This did not mean everyone. There were some opulent families only that they constituted a fraction of the population. In Malawi as elsewhere in developing countries, there are gross inequalities.
Eradication of poverty is possible only where the economy is growing fast enough so that there is wealth to distribute. No matter what rights people have, they cannot subsist on mere rights. Children have rights and people with disabilities have rights too. These and others can be upheld only where the State has sizeable budgets for social services.
Time has come when the State in Malawi should crystallise its social welfare system. At present, we act haphazardly without a clear philosophy. This is because our politics is devoid of political and social theorists.
At the end of the World War II, the British government set up a committee under Lord Beveridge to study ways and means of establishing a social welfare system. The Beveridge Report recommended such measures as unemployment and old age insurance. At the same time, systems more generous to the poor were being set in the Scandinavian countries especially in Sweden.
By the beginning of the 1970s, some politicians and policymakers were denouncing their welfare systems as both expensive and breeding loafers who were work averse. When Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of Britain, she set about making reforms in the welfare system so as to make its less expensive at the same time to compel unemployed people to seriously look for work instead of being contented with State doles.
The first Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew rejected the welfare systems of the west and instead instituted what he called the fair system. Details of his system are in his autobiography From Third World to First.
In Malawi, we should have a policy on helping the poor clearly spelt out. We need a philosophy of social welfare. A committee preferably chaired by a university lecturer in sociology, on which religious bodies, trade unions and other stakeholders may be represented. The committee should recommend the paradigms of our social system.
Poverty is of varying degrees. A person who is working but is lowly paid is better off than an unemployed person. A person who is penniless because he is unemployed on account of physical challenges, old age and other matters beyond his control is worse off than a person who is able-bodied but is unemployed because there are no job opportunities.
One person maybe self-employed but may be earning very little from his business, such persons need assistance of different sorts from the unemployed or the physically challenged.
It is on matters like these that academic and professional insight is required. If you do not know where you are going, any route will take you there, even to hell. The Malawi nation must know itself and what it can do with its resources. There are highly educated people in Malawi who can devise a handbook for eradicating poverty.
Social justice should include reduction in income and wealth inequalities. In the taxation system people who earn super scale salaries pay at higher rates than those who earn moderate salaries while the lowly paid are exempted altogether. This is fair enough.
It is not fair to charge equal fees to sons and daughters of clerks, primary school teachers and sons and daughters of opulent lawyers, bank managers, and millionaire businesspeople.
The latter group should meet the full tuition and boarding costs thereby sparing the budget for scholarship to the deserving poor. The present system contributes to widening gaps between the rich and the poor which is not good for democracy. n