Donors, these days, want to be addressed as ‘development partners’. We do, of course, address them as such—and often. But do they behave that way? I don’t think so.
Here is why.
You see, I am a keen believer, as a student of history, that Malawi, or Africa in general, needs trade, not aid, to develop.
However, if we understand aid as external financial and human capital, then history will prove to you that hardly a nation under the sun, even the UK, developed without using other people’s resources.
Such a historical context is critical in the aid discourse. That is why I maintain that Malawi, at this age of development, needs more aid, than trade.
The reason is simple: We need aid, in the first place, to develop our manufacturing capacity so that we produce enough items of trade.
I don’t think, currently, we have done that and I doubt if Malawi is a trading partner of all the countries we trade with. We are not and that is why we still import more than export.
Much of the aid, precisely the budgetary support, which Malawi receives or has been receiving, comes from Western countries—Europe and America.
However, over the years these donors have been apprehensive with budgetary support owing to increased financial mismanagement by government.
Currently, Malawi does not receive any budgetary support from the Western donors because of the sinful Cashgate which—spanning over a decade of its occurrence—saw billions of public funds going into the pockets of few.
I was one of the people that supported donors’ withdrawal of budgetary support to Lilongwe. It was the right thing to do as an expression of disgust and anger at Cashgate.
However, the donors, if you read their various statements, did not completely wave goodbye to supporting our budget.
They just demanded certain financial reforms as condition for resuming budgetary support—I am insisting budgetary support because the donors are still supporting Malawi through other channels.
The Peter Mutharika administration, I should be frank, has been quite steadfast in pushing for these reforms. The administration is implementing the Public Finance Management Reforms (PFMR) and also the Public Sector Reforms with an objective of improving effective service delivery in the public sector.
I do, of course, understand that, happening in a political context, it is difficult for these reforms to achieve their every goal in few years.
The picture I get is of a journey, taken at a flood, which government has embarked to improve financial management. It is, of course, a fact that government is acting up its financial reforms to coax the azungus to resume budgetary support.
Ladies and gentlemen, our country is in serious financial problems and one of the reasons is the withdrawal of budgetary support. We need this and I support the charm offensive moves being taken by the President.
What I am just surprised with is that our donors, who want to be referred to as ‘development partners’, have not been steadfast in appreciating some of the financial moves being undertaken by government to reconsider budgetary support.
I know the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is in the country to assess the strides of PMFR. It is disheartening fellow Malawians that, trust me, their concluding remarks will be nothing hopeful. They will tell us that we are making progress but more need to be done.
Seriously, donors need to be sincere on their position of resuming budgetary support. If they are, indeed ‘development partners’, they should accept that, somehow, the Mutharika administration has been steadfast in implementing PMFR. As such, they should resume the support to help treasury pick up from the current doldrums it is stuck.
If they understand that they are no longer interested in budgetary support, well, they should be frank, come in the open, and declare it. This will help government to switch its philosophy to new heights and move on. Otherwise, the current suspense is making these donors not look good. n