I have on a number of occasions lamented the flight of jobs that could be done locally to other countries. Printing is high on the list of industries which suffer greatly from this syndrome. Many printed items, particularly books, are produced in countries such as Canada, India and Thailand.
Reasons for this state of affairs are many and varied. One is pricing. Because importation of paper attracts duty and that of already printed books does not, it is cheaper for publishers and others to import already printed books than to have them printed locally.
Another reason is quality. Malawian printers have not been given the chance to develop their printing capability to world class standards because of the shaky market situation. Who, in their right mind, for example, would spend huge sums of money to seek ISO 9000 certification when they know a good chunk of the printing will go abroad?
The third reason is limited production capacity. Print buyers would argue that Malawian printers cannot meet their requirements in terms of huge print quantities because they (the printers) do not have adequate capacity.
These setbacks are not beyond the capability of Malawians to do something about. I have argued elsewhere that the pricing problem can be dealt with by introducing legislation that will ensure that imported paper and imported books have the same duty status. Either they must both be dutiable or both should be duty-free.
As for quality and production capacity, I am delighted that something is now happening among Malawian printers. Kris Offset, for example, has invested in modern equipment that can produce high quality jobs at high volumes.
Early this year, Kris Offset Printers bought a 10-colour press—the first of its kind in Malawi. This kind of press can print on both sides of the sheet in full colour in one pass. On many presses, the paper sheets need to be fed twice, once for each side to print on both sides. Additionally, the 10-colour press at Kris Offset can reach speeds of 12 000 impressions an hour, which means production time is reduced to the minimum.
More recently, Kris Offset has bought an automatic prefect binding machine. This is an ideal complement to the 10-colour press. It can bind books with a thickness of up to five centimetres at a rate of up to 6 000 books per hour. The bound books are trimmed to size in line.
Basically, what this means is that we can search within our borders for the capacity to produce high volumes of high quality printed work and we will not be disappointed. I am not so naïve as to believe that Malawians will no longer go abroad to get their printed work produced. Old habits die hard, they say. After all, many who travel abroad on errands such as getting books printed enjoy the benefits of external travel and would not be ready to see things done differently. We need to be highly patriotic to shake off such tendencies. Unfortunately, patriotism appears to be a commodity in short supply in Malawi.
We need to bear in mind that Malawian companies such as Kris Offset employ Malawians, pay taxes to government and will sometimes engage in corporate social responsibility activities for the benefit of Malawians. What is more, by getting books produced locally, the foreign money that would have been spent on foreign transactions to source from abroad will be saved for the items that cannot or are not produced locally. Our Malawi kwacha will attain stability in the process. In other words, more benefits will accrue to the nation rather than to specific individuals than would be the case if the wanton importation of items continued.
Strictly, we have to search within our nation before we make any decision to source items from abroad. I have never been an economist but I know the kind of activities that will quickly and utterly impoverish a nation. Irresponsible importation of goods is one of them.