Vice-President Saulos Chilima yesterday said the economic impact of Covid-19 will outlive the pandemic itself; hence, Malawi and other Southern African Development Community (Sadc) member States should take advantage to create new policy approaches.
Delivering a public lecture titled Promoting Digitalisation for Revival of Sadc Industrialisation Agenda in the Covid-19 Era as part of the ongoing 41st Sadc Heads of State and Government Summit that Malawi is hosting in Lilongwe, he said economies in the 16-member bloc should digitalise in the face of the pandemic.
Highlighting opportunities that have arisen as a result of Covid-19, Chilima—who is also Minister of Economic Planning and Development; and Public Sector Reforms—said: “Virtual meeting platforms like Zoom; online food ordering and delivery platforms like Uber Eat and Mr. D have experienced tremendous growth during the pandemic.
“Adoption of digital technologies has helped banks to quickly adapt and make profits by embracing digital financial services. At least we can bear such testimony for Malawi’s financial sector that has continued to post huge profits despite Covid-19.”
He observed that the pandemic has aggravated problems that industries already faced.
Last year, Malawi grew by a meagre 0.9 percent against an earlier projection of 4.5 percent due to the ravaging impact of Covid-19 as it hit-hard key strategic sectors of the economy, including tourism and manufacturing.
Full and partial lockdowns that characterised the international Covid-19 response have worsened trade and fiscal deficits, depressed the real sector into recession and potentially fuel inflation.
Chilima told the audience at Bingu International Convention Centre auditorium in Lilongwe—which included some Cabinet ministers and foreign dignitaries from Sadc—that Covid-19 is also devastating both private and State-owned enterprises, especially those that operate on a pay-as-you-collect basis.
He said the longer the economies remain partially closed, the greater the impact on the private sector and the higher the likelihood of mass bankruptcy.
However, on the flipside, Chilima explained that Covid-19 has provided impetus for innovation and development of technologies and platforms elsewhere, advising Sadc countries to tap opportunities from such a challenge.
The Veep said the tourism sector in Malawi like in many Sadc countries, has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, he said during the same crisis some firms have adapted quickly by “piggybacking” on digitalisation of their services
He said: “One example is the Dedza Pottery which has remained afloat despite Covid-19 effects by going online or digital in marketing and selling its tourism services and merchandise.”
On digitalisation, Chilima lamented that currently, Internet speed in the region is slow, though marginally increasing, and called for regional policies on cross border connectivity.
Speaking earlier, Sadc deputy executive secretary Thembinkosi Mhlongo expressed gratitude to Chilima for taking time to prepare and deliver the keynote address.
He also commended the National Planning Commission (NPC) for partnering the Sadc secretariat in organising the public lecture.
Mhlongo said the lectures are meant to provide knowledge and information to the general public and policy makers while also helping create awareness of Sadc.
Today, the Sadc Summit enters day five with the Sadc Council of Ministers commencing its meeting until tomorrow. The summit will reach its climax on August 17 and 18 when heads of State and governments meet.