Parliament has reconvened to discuss the 2022/23 National Budget. Our News Analyst CLEMENT CHINOKO caught up with Leader of Opposition Kondwani Nankhumwa to share his take on the state of the economy, anti-corruption fight and the newly-reconstituted Cabinet.
Q: What’s your take on the ending financial year?
A: The expiring financial plan has not been implemented according to how government said it would. In other words, government has not achieved what it hoped to achieve with the last budget approved by Parliament.
For example, we passed a budget with hefty recurrent and development figures, but where are we?
Instead of seeing an improvement in people’s lives, we have retrogressed a hundredfold. People are dying of treatable diseases because there are no drugs in hospitals.
Government is still failing to employ enough medical staff to fight Covid-19; there is still an astronomical number of students’ dropping out in our universities with government watching on the sidelines as a bystander; domestic borrowing is at an alarming level and corruption is still on the rise, on top of increasing consumer prices.
This is hardly the profile of a country which is on the right course of development. Rather, it fits the profile of a failed budget.
Q: Government has been heavily borrowing to balance its budgets. What does this portray about public finance management?
A: I am not an economist, but what I know is that government borrowing is not good for the economy. What it means is that we are spending what we do not have. This often puts pressure on the economy resulting in such things as currency devaluation, inflation and ultimately throwing a majority of the people into the cycle of poverty. This is what we do not need as an economy.
On many occasions, I have criticised this government’s penchant for borrowing, a scenario that has pushed the country’s domestic debt to unprecedented levels. I encouraged the government to revamp its tax regime and create an enabling environment for investment and enterprise. Among other things, we have advised government to focus on stimulating production rather than consumption. However, our budget gearing is still over 80 percent recurrent with very little for production and I do not expect things to change in the near future looking at how this government is spending.
Q: Does President Lazarus Chakwera’s new Cabinet have the ingredients to revolutionise the economy and development?
A: Congratulations to everyone who have made it into Cabinet. A good Cabinet is crucial in delivering the agenda of the government and helping the President implement his policies. A bad one can also sink him.
However, it is an open secret that many stakeholders, including the Public Affairs Committee [PAC], called on President Chakwera to fire his Cabinet and hire another one because of issues of competency, corruption and generally not meeting the expectations of Malawians. In fact, PAC actually mentioned the ministries where its ministers have failed and been found to be wanting. However, as we have seen, President Lazarus Chakwera dissolved and hired almost the same ministers back to cabinet. The ones that the public expected would be removed, including those mentioned by PAC, have been retained. What he has done is to shuffle them around and hide them in other ministries.
Out of a Cabinet of 30, only eight are new. The rest are the same old faces that were perceived to have failed Malawians. In other words, it is the same old Cabinet but brought back through the back door. Now if you ask me whether I think it has the grit to take Malawi forward, I will choose to agree with PAC.
Q: Is the President doing enough to combat abuse of public resources slowing effective implementation of its budget?
A: As earlier said, the President has not shown any gravitas to deal decisively with impunity and abuse of public resources. In fact, he is in the forefront abusing his authority by appointing his daughter to a diplomatic position and mercilessly travelling up and down the country just to ‘eat’ allowances under the guise of inspecting development projects.
The President has paid lip-service to the fight against corruption. For example, when he was campaigning for office, he said he will ensure that the Anti-Corruption Bureau [ACB] is independent and works without any interference from the Executive. This has largely not been the case. All that talk about the independence of ACB has taken a backpedal. Currently, the ACB is suffering from an acute lack of funding and its investigators are using personal resources to carry out crucial operations. We have also seen the Attorney General [Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda] trying to justify to the public that he is actually the boss of ACB. Within the same period, we have seen the Director of Public Prosecution [Steve Kayuni] blocking ACB from prosecuting some corruption suspects linked to an Asian businessman. All this on Chakwera’s watch.
Q: Any advice to the government you love to criticize?
A: Simple. The government should just implement its manifesto. There are so many things that Chakwera and his Tonse Alliance partners promised Malawians. The people have been waiting for two years now for their jobs; they are waiting to have a bustling economy and better livelihoods where they are eating three times a day, and buying cheap necessities of life. In short, Malawians are demanding their Canaan and not this Gehenna that the Chakwera government is shamelessly giving them.