Hon Folks, a University Council press statement on a 30 percent pay hike demand by Polytechnic lecturers (The Nation of March 28, p22) just underscores what I have feared all along—the folly of expecting the citizen to continue settling bills for political mediocrity without grumbling.
The Council tries to woo public sympathy to its side by stating the obvious namely, that the demand translates into an additional K6 billion which, by the end of the day, will have to be shouldered by the taxpayer. The story of a parastatal subsisting largely on subventions!
In addition, the Council also draws our attention to the fact that the dispute has already degenerated into lecturers withholding their labour which in turn translates into no classes for the students who happen to be our children.
The icing on its argument is that should the dispute continue to rock operations at this institution of higher learning, it will only compound an already bad situation where hustles of the past resulted in the Polytechnic being “behind in its academic calendar by one full year”!
Then comes the crux of the matter: The Council says these lecturers who demand a 30 percent this year got a 33.3 percent pay hike last year, 45 percent in 2013/14, 30 percent in 2012/13 and 10 percent in 2011/12?
Unfortunately, by not explaining the context for the past salary increases and this year’s 30 percent pay hike demand, the Council’s argument is hanging in mid air. What I would like to know as a citizen and taxpayer is whether these demanded pay-hikes make the lecturers richer in real terms?
Put differently, will the 30 percent pay hike, if given, enable them to buy more goods than they could immediately after receiving the 33.3 percent increase of last year? If the answer is yes, then I am 100 percent on the side of the Council.
But if the answer is what I fear, that these folks are simply saying no to further impoverishment and deprivation, then the Council, as an enlightened agent of government, should accept that the problem is the economy, not the lecturers.
Polytechnic lecturers did not make this economy in which the value of the kwacha depreciates by the day, eroding the buying power of hard-working and law-abiding citizens in the process. Government did.
The economic woes rocking our country now are self-inflicted. We were pretty much on course building our economy during Bingu’s first term before political blunders of the short-lived second term—best remembered for its catastrophic zero-deficit budget mooted after deliberately destroying bridges with western donors—turned our fortunes into an overnight chigubu economy characterised by a steady drop in gross domestic product (GDP).
Then came Joyce Banda whose act of bravado upon assuming power in 2012 led to an overnight devaluation of the kwacha by 49 percent and floating it at the same time, a risky decision cushioned by virtually nothing more than a donor pledge that aid, suspended during Bingu’s disastrous second term, would resume.
Indeed aid resumed and the 2013 budgetary support pledge reached the all-time high of 40 percent only to be suspended indefinitely a couple of months after revelations of massive looting in government dubbed Cashgate.
To survive, government broadened the tax base and continues to commercialise or de-subsidise public services. On its expenditure side, it has scaled down on recruitment of teachers and health personnel. There’s also a marked shortage of drugs in hospitals and materials in schools.
What hasn’t changed is the spendthrift culture in government. They ditched the Merc and replaced it with a Land Cruiser VX. They give each other 1 000 litres of fuel a month for a five-minute drive from their residences in Area 10 to Capital Hill.
They see nothing wrong in flying business or club class, spending twice as much on air-ticket as those in the economy class just to show off their VIP status at the expense of poor Malawians who can’t even afford phala for their children as they go to school in the morning.
Corruption has for long been estimated at 50 percent above the Sadc average and erodes up to 30 percent of the revenue, yet nothing unusual has been put in place to fight it. About K7 billion is spent on buying cement and iron-sheets when the budget for irrigation, which can transform basket-case status, is hardly allocated half as much.
The situation such as ours requires of all of us to bite the lower lip as we break sweat while sacrificing comfort. The problem is that we lack the John Magufuli type of leadership, ready and willing to be out in the cold with everybody else. n