When Cashgate was busted the future relationship between the country and key development partners changed forever. Some stopped supporting Malawi Government through official channels for fear of putting their taxpayers’ money in a ‘leaking bucket.’ One of such key bilateral partners is the UK, and the head of its development arm the Department for International Development (DfID) in Malawi during the past four eventful years has been Jen Marshall (JM), who has just concluded her tour of duty. Our reporter, ENELLESS NYALE caught up with Marshall to hear her reflections on the past and future direction of UK aid to Malawi. Excerpts:
Looking back at the four years you have been in Malawi, what are some of the things you are most proud of?
July 2014 seems a very long time ago. I arrived just after the election win for President Peter Mutharika and his team. And I arrived in the aftermath of Cashgate that dominated the news; our relationships changed our funding instruments, and really damaged ‘Brand Malawi’ in the United Kingdom [UK] and beyond. But there are so many things that I am proud of in the portfolio I have overseen, delivering around 80 million British pounds [over $100 million or about K73 billion]) each year, with an additional 70 million British pounds [about K52 billion] that benefits Malawi through central UK investments in multilaterals, civil society, research programmes and the private sector.
I would like to focus on three: First, is the National Registration and Identification System [NRIS]. The UK invested 10 million British pounds [about K7.3 billion] in this system and is the largest donor to the project. The NRB [National Registration Bureau]/ UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] team have made excellent progress to date, registering practically everybody over 16 in the country, and establishing a secure and robust system. I totally agree with President Mutharika that the NRIS has surpassed its registration targets and that it has the potential to be transformational for Malawi.
Second, I am proud of the new, post-budget support instruments we have led the way on designing, to support sectors critical for the poorest people’s wellbeing. The Health Sector Joint Fund is a great example. It is a flexible funding instrument that, with tight controls in place, enables donors to work together for greater aid effectiveness and for us to support critical expenditures needed to provide health services across the country, with government leadership.
Thirdly, I leave proud of what we have contributed and will continue to contribute in improved governance and accountability, particularly in strengthening poor peoples’ voice and power to demand change and to hold local and central government to account. This power shift—especially for the growing numbers of youth—is critical for Malawi’s long-term progress and stability.
Looking forward, the UK will invest where we see progress, not where passive or overt resistance continues to prevent changes in behaviours and actions. We will invest in long-term change and support coalitions of people—be they government civil society, private sector or academia—who want to improve the way things work in practice.
Obviously, a lot of stakeholders and commentators have talked about corruption as the main stumbling block to national development; what is your take on this?
What I would really like to be saying four years on is that I no longer need to talk about corruption. However, unfortunately this is still the biggest risk to our investments here, and therefore, a risk to continued aid flows from us and others—as well as to the reputation of Malawi globally. The UK continues to provide support to Malawi’s law enforcement agencies to tackle serious and organised corruption. This includes support to the National Audit Office [NAO], to the Anti-Corruption Bureau [ACB] and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] for investigations to progress and proceed to trial, and to the Financial Intelligence Authority [FIA] to tackle money laundering and illicit financial flows.
Very simply, the scale of the corruption here—whether through public procurement, money laundering or public appointments—is undermining the future of Malawi’s growth and development. It is stealing from some of the poorest people in the world. And it is Malawi’s young people and future generations who will bear the brunt. My hope as I step out is that there will be a renewed energy in the next year by all stakeholders to take on this big challenge head on.
How do you look at the future of UK Aid in the context of Brexit and how does the future look like regarding UK Aid profile in Malawi?
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London reinvigorates the Commonwealth, and as the UK heads towards changing its relationship with the European Union [EU], Global Britain is seeking to reinvigorate the relationships we have with Africa, including with Malawi. As part of this thinking, the UK and DfID’s portfolio of development investments and other support will evolve, building on our historical strengths, our skills and partnerships, and our local mutual understanding as to what will accelerate progress. We have embarked on three big long-term uplifts for Malawi:
First, is an uplift of investment and focus on helping Malawi to achieve a demographic transition. This transition is essential to enable growth to take off—and to avert a demographic disaster. Access to family planning is key to this, but clearly not the only intervention.
Second, we will increase our efforts to help Malawi to break the cycle of annual food and other crises. Management of a chronic problem as a repeated crisis is not efficient or effective for any of us—government, development partners nor households and communities themselves. Increased investments are being designed by UK that will support critical resilience building. DfID will work to ensure the long-term social protection system can better flex to protect those made vulnerable after a bad harvest. And we will help Malawi to insure itself better against shocks and to avoid the need to ask for external assistance even when a real crisis hits.
And last but not least, our future portfolio will see more investment in and engagement on growing Malawi’s economy. We already have a suite of interesting and successful investment projects, from the Malawi Innovation Challenge Fund and support to the oil seed sector, to AgDevCo’s and CDC’s [Commonwealth Development Corporation] larger scale lending that boosts productivity, jobs and incomes. We know without inclusive growth, poverty reduction is not achievable in Malawi, and that this will take policy and behaviour change for a more conducive enabling environment, as well as investment. Collectively Malawi and its partners need to focus more attention, resources and efforts for change in this area.
Who will take over from you?
I would like to introduce my successor David Beer. David will be here from the end July after he wraps up his current role with DfID at the World Bank in Washington. In the interim, there will be Chris Austin, who will be holding the fort until David arrives, and reconnecting with Malawi since he worked here years ago.
Do you have any parting words?
You never achieve everything you set out to, you never do as well as you might want to on all important issues, with all partners, or even with your own team. But as I step out, I am proud of so much that we have achieved together. Malawi is a place of real constraints and at times suffering, but of such unfulfilled potential, particularly in the youth, the nation’s future. It is a place of real beauty and friendship, from the lake of stars at Chintheche, to the Dedza plateau, the stunning Shire highlands and valley, Mount Mulanje and the green tea plantations, to the rocks and plateaus of Rumphi and the north. A place where aid works—but should always be challenged to work better and more effectively. I am privileged to have lived and worked here for four years. n