Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism Henry Mussa says the country will not hold the third Malawi Investment Forum (MIF) this year to pave the way for an assessment and review of outstanding issues from previous forums.
Speaking to journalists in Lilongwe Monday on his return from the United Kingdom (UK) where he held different trade and investment meetings with various potential international investors, Mussa said the 2015 and 2016 investment forums generated a lot of interests with a number of memoranda of understanding (MoUs) for investment in various sectors signed. However, he said most of the proposed deals were yet to be concluded.
Last year, seven companies signed MoUs during the 2016 MIF while the one held in 2015 yielded deals and MoUs worth $1 billion (about K734 billion). The 2016 investment compendium, launched in October 2016, presented investment opportunities for 118 bankable projects in various sectors in the country.
On the streets, the question has been where is all the investment foreign investors promised to pour into Malawi?
Good people, let us not be fooled by this government. When President Peter Mutharika won the controversial May 2014 elections, one of his promises was to improve the economy by bringing in direct foreign investment. But three years down the line, it is business as usual. In fact, factories are shutting down instead of opening.
You see, investors flock to a country where the business environment is right. They (investors) are not fools to come to a country such as Malawi where corruption—a major obstacle to investment—starts from the top. Investors will not invest in a country where electricity—a major resource for production of goods and services—is erratic and government red tape and regulations are still 20th Century.
Apart from high levels of corruption, lack of security and high taxes, Malawi has porous borders. Counterfeits have flooded the country. Our laws are weak and are not enforced to stop counterfeits from suffocating local producers. Do we expect investors to invest in such an environment?
In 2008, I was a junior business journalist, when a 20-person Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) delegation visited Malawi to attend the mother-of-all investor forums in this country. The forum attracted crème de la crème of bankable projects. We sat from 15 to18 July at Mount Soche in Blantyre with bated breaths as we listened to some of the most amazing business plans and bankable project ranging from $5 million to $10 million.
At the time investors were happy with sound economic management under Bingu wa Mutharika government that they promised to come back and invest in most of the projects presented at the forum. But as I write Malawi is yet to see results of that forum.
So why do we carry on spending millions of money on these so-called ‘investment forums’?
Word on the street is that, such initiates are cashcows for the ruling party. Investment forums and many other such forums that have little impact on Malawians are money-generators for the ruling elite. All politicians want from such meetings are opportunities to enrich themselves through the provision of transport, food, stationery and other services to the forum at exorbitant prices. These investment forums are benefitting a few!
If indeed government is committed to woo investors, then we must do things differently by first, dealing with corrupt officials. Malawi has to get rid of the rot at every level. Investors do not need to pay bribes and kickbacks at every twist and turn to establish a business in this country.
Mutharika, Mussa and this Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government must know that as long as they continue to have no strategy for controlling corruption and how to improve the country’s security, no foreign investor will be interested to come and pour his money into the country. As some have said before, Malawi is a leaking bucket!