With so much money at its disposal, should the Malawi government be spending billions of kwacha on building stadiums?
Decent and Affordable Subsidy Programme widely known as Malata and Cement Subsidy, is justified for infrastructure projects that provide a public good nationwide, but sports stadiums do not meet this criterion, argue development economicsts experts interviewed on Tuesday.
There is little evidence that stadiums provide local economic benefits, they say, adding that decades of academic studies in Africa consistently find no visible positive relationship between sports facilities and local economic development, income growth, or job creation.
Residents of Thyolo, Ntcheu, Mzimba where K13.5 billion will be spend to build stadiums and Lilongwe where the Bingu National Stadium, funded by a loan from the Chinese government, have little to gain from the facilities.
So, why is government still pumping billions of Kwacha in their construction?
Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development announced this month that government will construct new stadiums in Thyolo, Ntcheu and Mzimba to the tune of K13.5 billion allocated in the 2017/18 budget.
But a development economist, who is also former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) Naomi Ngwira, on Tuesday said the scenario hinges around government’s prioritisation.
She suggests that multipurpose dams to be used for generation of electricity or irrigation would be ideal infrastructure projects.
“In the face of the energy problems the country faces and the change in weather patterns, dams to save as sources of water for irrigation and energy generation would be more useful for now,” said Ngwira.
Economist and business consultant Henry Kachaje said it is uncertain that the stadium projects may have direct economic benefits as they are unlikely to operate on commercial basis.
He said instead, they might end up to be another added expenditure in the national budget as they will have to be maintained.
“In the short-term, these are projects must be viewed as social services to the communities. But they might bring economic benefits arising from small-scale business activities that will follow such developments,” he said.
A senior lecturer in the department of economics at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, Exley Silumbu, said the country needs infrastructure whether for recreation, but bringing this towards election year tend to make them lose economic sense even if they are sensible economically.
He said: “Infrastructure development is important. There are still places in the country which are not easily accessible; these should precisely be the areas we as country should be looking at with great focus.”