International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde on Friday touched down at Kamuzu International Airport at exactly 12.36 pm and immediately delivered a message to the Malawi Government: do not abandon economic reforms.
The IMF boss, ranked one of the most powerful and influential women globally, said Malawi should stay the course despite the short-term pain the changes have brought.
“There has been a huge effort undertaken by the Malawi Government and the Malawi population and it is really important to stay on course [with the reforms],” said Lagarde.
Soon after taking over government in April last year, President Joyce Banda put in place free market economic reforms, including devaluation and floatation of the kwacha, reintroduction of the automatic pricing mechanism (APM) on fuel and deregulation of water and electricity tariffs.
The administration also crafted an austerity budget to reign on spending in the face of a dwindling resource envelop as domestic revenues shrunk and donor aid got harder to get.
The measures were part of a dosage the IMF prescribed—and government swallowed—to restore the IMF-supported Extended Credit Facility (ECF) programme that most economists agree was key to restore donor aid and revamp the economy.
Lagarde’s visit, therefore, signals support to Banda’s braving of the bitter pill that is making her unpopular locally, but is winning her applause abroad.
Asked whether the IMF feels responsible for the pain emanating from the reforms, the former French Finance minister said: “Any programme that is undertaken by any government anywhere in the world is the programme of the government. The IMF just brings its expertise.”
Lagarde, who was ranked the 17th most influential woman in the world by Forbes Magazine in 2009, said the IMF has had a deep and long-standing relationship with Malawi over the years and that the institution is pleased to help Banda in her economic programmes.
“My coming is to see how we are partnering with Malawi and to support economic reforms that are underway at the moment,” added Lagarde, who is on a two-day tour in Malawi ending Saturday.
Friday afternoon, the IMF boss was expected to meet Banda at Kamuzu Palace and senior Capital Hill officials before sitting down for dinner with a group of prominent Malawian women at Golden Peacock Hotel in Lilongwe.
Lagarde became the first woman in 2011 to head the IMF just as she was the first female Finance minister in France after then new French President Nicolas Sarkozy appointed her.
She earned a law degree from the University of Paris and did graduate work at the Institute of Political Studies at Aix-en-Provence in southern France. She began working in France for the US-based law firm, Baker & McKenzie in 1981.
As Finance minister, she helped to push through pension reforms and an easing of the ironclad 35-hour work week, and was widely praised for working with other major countries to ride out the economic crash of 2008. She became head of the IMF after the sudden resignation of its former chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Her five-year term runs through 2016. She was named a Chevalier in the French Legion of Honour in 2000.