While there is a long list of things that various groups of people and sectors expect the Tonse Alliance administration to implement in its first 100 days in government, a few stand out.
Most of those we talked to mentioned smooth issues such as implementation of the promised universal fertiliser subsidy programme, a firm start for the creation of one million jobs, unity among Malawians, attending to the Covid-19 pandemic, tackling corruption, provision of loans, planning for the next agricultural season to ensure food security at household level and re-opening of schools.
We interviewed business captains, the academia, and traditional and civil society leaders. We also held focus group discussions in Blantyre urban and rural.
Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama) president Lauryn Nyasulu in an interview said they expect the new government to include some realistic campaign promises in the budget based on the size of the government purse.
She said the new administration should strive to gain confidence of investors and Malawians in the governance system as well as implement measures to improve productivity and diversification of the economy.
Said Nyasulu: “The government also needs to restore meritocracy. It needs to put right people in right positions—based on merit. Government also needs to act decisively on corruption from early stages.”
On Tuesday, new Finance Minister Felix Mlusu presented a K722.4 billion provisional budget to run for four months in which he announced provision of a 50-kilogramme bag of fertiliser at K4 495 for 3.5 million smallholder farmers. He also announced an increase in the zero-tax bracket from K45 000 to K100 000, a proposal to review the minimum wage to K50 000 from the current K35 000 and an increase in Malawi Enterprise Development Fund (Medf) youth loans from K15 billion to K40 billion.
University of Malawi’s Chancellor College economics professor Ben Kalua said despite the fire fighting that government is doing on such issues as the Covid-19 pandemic, the new administration should start addressing immediate issues such as planning for the next agricultural season to ensure there is enough food at household level, and for sale.
But Kalua advised government to tread carefully on its promise on loans, saying the potential to default is always high going by past trends.
In the education sector, Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) executive director Benedicto Kondowe said he expects the new administration to urgently attend to the Covid-19 response. He also wants government to fine-tune the National Education Sector Investment Plan (Nesip) to address gaps on financing of the sector. He said government should also plan for the launch of the plan and policy dissemination and to recruit qualified jobless teachers.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Gift Trapence, whose civil society grouping was at the centre of mobilising people during mass protests that characterised the post-2019 May disputed polls, indicated that the coalition expects the new government to show accountability, transparency and professionalism in running public institutions.
Like HRDC, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), a quasi-religious body, also said it expects the new government to be accountable in the way it runs its institutions.
PAC executive director Robert Phiri said the group’s board plans to meet the new leadership soon but may hold a stakeholders’ conference to generate ideas for the new administration to prioritise.
Said Phiri: “Another issue of national concern is the need to enhance social cohesion following the just-ended fresh presidential election.”
PAC, chiefs want Malawians to unite
Three chiefs—Paramount Chief Lundu of Chikwawa and Senior Chiefs Kapeni of Blantyre and Malemia of Nsanje—echoed PAC on the need for the new administration to enhance social cohesion. They observed that Malawi has been a divided nation since courts ordered a fresh presidential election on February 3 2020.
“No country can develop when its citizens are divided. We have seen regionalism and tribalism, among others, which must be stopped,” said Kapeni. His sentiments were shared by Chief Malemia of Nsanje, who said also expects the new administration to improve the welfare of nurses, police and army officers who, he said, have sacrificed a lot to save lives of people in the country.
On its part, Malawi Equity Health Network (Mhen) wants the new administration to address leakages in the health sector by introducing a mark on public medicines and medical supplies for easy tracing when stolen, increase health budget to 15 percent of the national budget as advocated in the Abuja Declaration.
Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU), which hailed the new administration for having already started to fulfill some of the campaign promises as presented in the provisionalbudget such as raising the tax-free Paye threshold and recommendations to increase minimum wage.
On their part, some smallholder farmers in Traditional Authority Somba in Blantyre said they want the new administration to prioritise smooth implementation of the fertiliser subsidy programme to ensure that smallholder farmers benefit.
Besides, implementing the fertiliser subsidy programme, locals also asked government to start working on uncompleted projects such as roads, which the Peter Mutharika-led administration started.
“We heard that government has reduced fertiliser price to about K4 500, which is commendable. But this will be meaningless if the fertiliser will not be accessed by small-scale farmers.
“Government should ensure that fertiliser is available on the market in the first 100 days,” said Feston Matewere from Kantimbanya Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Somba in Blantyre in a focus group discussion with five other people.
Matewere also said they want government to provide them with loans to boost their businesses which have been greatly affected during the past 11 months, because of the post-elections demonstrations and the coronavirus pandemic.
Emmanuel Bello, a Blantyre City resident, said the Tonse Alliance government was partly elected on the basis of its promise for radical reforms aimed at uprooting any form of favouritism. He, therefore, expects appointments of individuals in public offices based on merit, and not where one comes from.
On her part, Linda Mtambo from Machinjiri Township said with rising Covid-19 cases, the new government should also train teachers and care-givers on the pandemic before re-opening schools.
“On employment, they should urgently conduct a head count of civil servants to get rid of ghost workers to create space for new employees, especially in critical sectors such as health, education and agriculture,” Mtambo said.
MCCCI wants loans for business sector
On its part, Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) said the chamber expects the new government to consider policy measures that include provision of special lines of credit to large businesses as a way of revitalising the economy as businesses have suffered and trade has been disrupted with the Covid-19 pandemic.
MCCCI director for business environment and policy advocacy Madalitso Mandiwa Kazembe observed that just like government has supported small medium enterprises (SMEs) with loans in the provisional budget, large businesses need to be protected as well.
Kazembe also said in the first 100 days of the new government, the business community expects it to pay all arrears to businesses, including value added tax (VAT) and withholding tax refunds to improve business liquidity position.
She, however, welcomed the adjustment of the tax -free bracket to K100 000, saying this will ensure that demands for goods and services continue during the Covid-19 crisis period and increase take-home income for employees.
“During these three months government should also consider waiving maximum demand tariff on electricity during this lean period because most industries are not working at full capacity,” said Kazembe. – Additional reporting by Jonathan Pasungwi and Chris Nhlane