I enjoy staying adjacent to bottle stores. But that is not the issue. The issue is 32-year-old Ackim Mmangisa, a guard at a bottle store I live adjacent to in Chilomoni, Blantyre. He has two intelligent daughters—14 and 16—learning at Zingwangwa Secondary School.
His monthly wage is K18 000, but every term, he has to part away with K10 000 to meet the two girls’ school fees. Not only that. It is almost 11 kilometres from Chilomoni to Zingwagwa—to mean, everyday he coughs about K800 to get the two girls to school. And what about their packed meal, uniform, notebooks and pens?
But make no mistake. Mmangisa is married and he lives in a rented house that cost him K12 000 per month. He has to pay water bills—which have increased by 45 percent; and thank God he lives in a house without electricity. Nevertheless, Mmangisa needs paraffin for lighting and charcoal for cooking.
It is amazing how he meets all the costs with a meagre K18 000 wage.
But why I am I saying all this?
There is a reason. Last Thursday, I got into the bottle store to have a mineral. He came for a greeting and, as usual, asked for a copy of The Nation I carried.
While going through the paper he found a statement by the Ministry of Education about fees hike in secondary schools. Government had raised fees for secondary schools such as Zingwangwa from about K5 000 to K10 000. Like somebody who had just received news of a relation’s death, he rushed to me, dejected.
“Why should government do this to people like me?” he asked with eyes of deep resignation, adding: “As a journalist, can you challenge government on this decision. It is one heartless decision.”
I did not have the answer. But I knew he was not the only parent or guardian raising such a question.
Let us face it: We are living in the worst of economic times. Cost of living [if not surviving] has soared.
It is not the right time to be a Malawian and, surely, I sympathise with President Peter Mutharika’s government. That is why when his government decided to reduce some subsidies in the education sector, which I know will hurt millions like Mmangisa, I was not mad.
I regard the decision a bitter pill we must swallow today to cure our times. You see, we have, for years, been fooled by our governments to be living a lie of a welfare State—pushing subsidies we could hardly sustain without other people’s money. As a result, we lost the responsibility to take care of ourselves.
We are a poor nation, yes. But I do not think every Malawian is a pauper to fail, even, to share the cost of educating their children.
I support President Mutharika’s bold decision to reduce these subsidies. Not only does the move increase the required revenue in the face of donor freeze; it also instills in parents a spirit of owning education processes of their ward. However, it should remain the duty of government to ensure that children of struggling parents like Mmangisa should not drop out of school.
But I have a word for government. As earlier said, most of us are struggling. And when government, despite our economic struggles, pushes further our cost of living by cutting on subsidies, it is imperative that the little money we contribute is used prudently.
Reports of large entourage to the ongoing United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) by President Mutharika are quite disturbing. I call them reports because government is not coming out clear regarding the real figures and who is meeting the costs.
In the spirit of transparency and accountability, I would have expected government information outlets like Dr Bright Molande, director of information in the Ministry of Information, to come out and clearly explain who and who is in this trip and their financiers. Not looking clever in public with careless utterance like: “Do you want Malawians to be labelled as a selfish nation?”
No, Dr Molande, none sensible person can label us ‘selfish’ for demanding prudence in how government uses our hard-earned taxes.
Already we are a nation in a season of economic pain. The last thing, in this season, Mmangisa expects is to get his intelligence insulted with careless statements. He is not ready to be led into the dangers you are leading him to. Thanks.