Hon. Folks, the other day Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe openly admitted the nation was better off with the bank in private hands because politicians will inevitably continue mismanage it.
If that remark was meant to hurt someone else, in mind it landed squarely on the nose of APM, Goodall himself and the politicians in Cabinet.
The politicians ended up selling the bank anyway. My fear now is on the safety of the proceeds. As deprivation rages on-no maize, drug shortage, rising cost of living, frequent and lengthy power outages, etc-will these bad managers secure the value of billions realised from the sale? Will they be wisely used or become another raw deal of “jet-gate” proportions?
Then the ATI (Access to Information) saga: when donors made the enactment of ATI law a condition for their resumption of direct budget support Goodall, apparently jumped the gun and promised the bill would be tabled in the next sitting of Parliament.
What else would have been the right thing to do when government operations have been drastically reduced to the extent that patients in public hospitals are neither assured of being provided with drugs nor meals and local councils go for months with greatly reduced funding or not at all?
If to secure the much-needed shot to the recurrent budget partly requires passing the enabling Act to sections 36 and 37 of the Constitution adopted 21 years ago, Gondwe probably assumed that his colleagues in government would appreciate the urgency of the matter especially when considering that the draft ATI bill was produced through a rigorous consultative process many months ago.
But when a couple weeks ago a delegation from the private media sector called on APM in Lilongwe, his message was clear: ATI would only go to Parliament when the “inconsistencies” he is not happy with are first addressed.
The take home message there was that the APM administration would only take the bill to Parliament when it’s ready. In addition, the President warned that should Parliament pass the Bill while it’s cobwebbed with what he sees as inconsistencies, the nation should rest assured that he will veto it. To rub home his stand, APM declared: “my government does not take ultimatums.”
With this development, Goodall can only keep his fingers crossed and pray that APM’s tough talk on ATI does not delay its tabling in the august House further than the next session otherwise he will have to deal with a muddy-splash stain on his credibility.
But the most telling sign that things are getting dicey for Goodall is a press statement on the kwacha exchange rate issued on February 1, 2016. It literally says nothing assuaging to the business community and the public stung and bleeding by the rapid fall of the kwacha other than pleading for their patience.
All that Goodall is marketing in the statement as stabilising factors of the economy are Government’s and the Reserve Bank’s prudent fiscal and monetary policies respectively. We have heard this many times before. If tight fiscal and monetary policies are the only answer, then what explains the recent sharp fall? What explained the trip of the kwacha while we were in the tobacco season, our number one foreign exchange earner?
Could it be that there were relapses at the Reserve Bank or in the Finance Ministry?
An appeal for patience may sound hollow to a student pursuing studies with an institution of higher learning abroad paying in dollars or pound sterling.
An appeal for patience may be replaced by an entrepreneur who borrowed capital to import a machine and now sees pound sterling quadrupling even before the manufacturing commences. We’ve already seen Escom, which is government-owned, pricing in US dollar its locally generated electricity to avert the debilitating volatility of the kwacha.
The challenge for government is to instil confidence in the economy and do what it takes to stabilise the currency. If enacting ATI and taking drastic measures to seal pilferage of public funds can be the starting point in bringing back donor aid, spare us the arrogance and do the needful. Otherwise the situation has put Goodall at his wits end indeed.