Hon Folks, the K1.3 trillion national budget for 2017/18 could in fact be lower in real terms than last year’s budget of K1.2 trillion.
Inflation has definitely nibbled at the value of the kwacha in the past 12 months yet there are also additional 500 000 passengers in the ship born since the last budget was presented. We definitely needed more money in the kitty even to get the same level of shoddy public service delivery that saw us do with no drugs or food for patients in some hospitals.
Folks, good old Kamuzu Banda (may his soul rest in peace) declared after breaking “their stupid federation” that we had to brace for a battle against “poverty, hunger and disease” –major valuables in the human development index (HDI).
It’s now 53 years since attaining our independence, are we winning? When measured by the HDI, we are not. It’s only in the imagination of politicians in government that our lives are improving as a result of their leadership.
The development pattern for Malawi is likened to that of a war-torn or failed state. While other functioning democracies which have known no war are sailing north towards their cherished visions, Malawi is gliding south, west and east like a possessed person.
I guess it’s partly because we think of growing the economy by generating an impressive national budget. Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe has just presented one a week ago and in it he makes the horrendous claim that the economy will this year grow by 7 percent. How?
Should we not start by figuring out how to generate more wealth?
Kamuzu Banda wasn’t so much into welfare spending. He would give people food and other relief items only when disaster struck. Instead, he received cash gifts from villagers. We hated it to boot but villagers worked hard to fend for themselves and, if need be, spoil the dictator.
Then came Bakili Muluzi in 1994. He made a politically correct argument that the President shouldn’t be extorting money from poor villagers. It’s should be the opposite, the president dishing out money, maize, flour and what have you to the people.
Muluzi also travelled extensively within Malawi, promising that his government would provide whatever the people were asking.
Until now, traditional and local party leaders see as their duty the carrying of the beggar’s bowl to presidential functions taking place in their areas. They ask for food even during the harvesting period. They asked for toilets in their schools.
Now the government is busy helping to build houses for capable people. It gives them fertilizer subsidy during production and food relief during consumption. Very few communities get anything done on a self-help basis! Who are we, really?
The perception that you get everything free if you support the government of the day has to be de-constructed as a starting point. Government does not generate wealth. Rather it depends on taxes from the wealth that the people themselves, as citizens, generate.
A significant segment of the rural population is in the productive age, constituting the group that does the so-called subsistent farming. They toil the whole year producing crops which are sold in season for a song.
Government, IMF and even captains of the private sector see no problem with this arrangement since it follows the principle of supply and demand. But there is a problem: subsistent farmers wallow in abject poverty and are subjecting the countryside to serious environmental degradation.
Government can intervene on the supply side to ensure subsistent farmers harvest more per acre and, where possible, plant twice or more a year. It can also intervene on the demand side by creating a tool for exporting the surplus to the region or beyond for the good of the producer.
Almost everything we have in abundance at any given time is in short supply elsewhere within the Sadc /Comesa market. Besides, India and China have an insatiable hunger for some of the crops we produce here.
The only reason the subsistent farmer sweats year after year, producing food and cash crops without having anything to show for it is because the vendors who short-change them include influential politicians. n