In the State of the Nation Address (Sona) President Lazarus Chakwera made last Friday, one of the issues he mentioned was the construction of “193 Constituency Offices to serve as permanent points of access for Malawians to reach their MPs.” The President added that it had also long been his view to have official residences for MPs within their constituencies to ensure they are part of the communities they represent. “My Administration is, therefore, actively engaging investors to develop plans for this project and to expedite its commencement.”
From the above statement my understanding is that while the construction of 193 Constituency Offices is a done deal, the building of official residences for MPs within their constituencies is not. And for now, this is only the President’s view as his administration engages investors to develop plans for the project and expedite its commencement.
However, Minister of Information Gospel Kazako in later interviews made it crystal clear that people should also consider the official residences’ project is done and dusted. People have no reason to doubt their Minister of Information as the government’s spokesperson. In short, apart from the constituency offices, there will also be official residences. This is the same way we have health centres all over the country and residences for staff for those health facilities.
But there has been a social media blitz on the project with some people vehemently opposing and others supporting the idea. The main argument from those opposed to the idea are that building the houses is not a priority for Malawi which has many other pressing issues to sort out especially in the health and education sectors. Others say most MPs do not stay in their constituencies and so even if houses were to be built for them, they would not be using them.
Those in support of the project argue that the decision would save government billions of kwacha which it now spends on MPs for their accommodation. MPs are paid K350 000 per month for accommodation. This translates to K4.2 million per year and K21 million during the five-year Parliamentary tenure. This, they say, is a lot of money which government will be saving as MPs will no longer be paid accommodation allowances.
Both views have some merit. But the problem is that those opposing the project are only looking at what they think should be the short term priorities of government to the total exclusion of long term objectives which would eventually save billions of taxpayers’ kwacha. There has never been a time when government had enough money for everything. And so, all government projects are priorities. Long-term policies and projects are just as important as short term ones. They enable government to save big time in many generations to come.
Many sectors are in a mess because for many decades, there has been no meaningful long term investment in those sectors. Take, for example, strategic sectors such as energy generation. Demand for electricity far outstrips generation because for a very long time, government neglected investment that could have increased generation and distribution of electricity.
The problem is that there is very little allocation for infrastructure development in the national budget because planners don’t look at capital spending as a future saving. They also don’t consider the strategic importance of doing so. And so, we expect development partners to provide 60 percent of our development funding. Unfortunately, they have their own priorities.
We have the same problem in the education sector, especially at tertiary level. Government is always firefighting to increase intake into public universities. This is because for many years after establishing the University of Malawi, government invested very little to expand the institution in line with the increasing number of students who qualify for university selection. It was not until there was an outcry to do so that government woke up from its slumber and started doing something about it.
The road infrastructure sector is another very neglected area. We have a good National Transport Master Plan. But implementation has been a huge problem. We are not in the habit of solving tomorrow’s problems by making strategic investments today, because we think they are not priorities. What is killing Malawi today is contentment with the hand-to-mouth habit of producing and consuming for today’s needs without thinking that there is tomorrow.
There is need for government to play a good balancing act between short and long-term objectives so that we don’t regret tomorrow. n