The bank halls are now full and so are the lines on cash dispensers. If you have an offer for a free lunch, why not? It will just save you and an extra penny. That is the value for money. Those that are lucky may even get a free drink. You never know, but there is always a cost to a free meal. It might be perceived as free but honestly someone is paying for it. You could be the one paying even not knowing. Sometimes I contend we needed to institute a commission of inquiry to investigate how many days January actually has. Someone may be cheating us and the wheels of the law must move fast.
Just think of the maize puzzle. The presidential inquiry, the Kapito inquiry, the parliamentary inquiry and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) investigations. One point is clear. There is a huge competition. The competition is being a “maize loving country” and a “God-fearing country”. So which are we?
If we had abandoned maize for cassava we could be talking of a cassava inquiry. But we can adopt cassava, a crop that is drought resistant and does not need any fertilisers? Someone would get me to the gallows, I don’t know though.
Over the years, we have invested so much into Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) and the calls for its abandonment cannot get any better than now. That some beneficiaries sell their coupons for a fee higher than the face value for a profit is common knowledge. I guess, the average folk out there seems to have mastered the art of the discount window, synonymous with financial markets. After all human beings are rational. Hold a leverage with your vote, sell your coupon and you will still get free maize. Who wouldn’t do that anyway? Not surprising that even opposition parties walk a tight rope on this one and often do have ice cubes dangling over their heads.
That’s the cost of free lunch. You can get free things and as long as you are assured, why bother going an extra mile to wean yourself over it? The key questions we all ought to ask is how many millions of dollars have we spent on fertilisers for subsidies. The alternative question is: How many jobs have we created in those countries where we import these fertilisers that we give out for free and then go back to the same countries to buy maize to give to the same people we gave free fertilisers? Or one can still ask, what is the opportunity cost of Fisp?
Would things change if we abandon this Fisp and focus on one approach? The approach could be to have a reserve fund for food emergencies instead of free fertilisers and then provide free food in times of crop failure. This could be complemented by irrigation and after all, all purchases done domestically somehow will find their way into our tax revenues. Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) would even stand on a much higher anti-hill to blow their “beating the target” trumpet. It has a very good sound after all.
The taxpayer is paying for all this. The beneficiaries playing this game straight on reckon it is a free lunch. But in earnest think of billions that could have actually gone to health centres in our own villages that lack in essential medicines. They pay the cost. Maybe critics of the vote winning Fisp have a point. I don’t know.
Maybe it is in the human nature to enjoy free things. While that sounds rational, it has its own limits. I tend to be overly critical, like many other commentators on the banking industry, especially the high cost of borrowing. I honestly do not like the huge disparity between lending and savings rates. For example, lending rates are above inflation while savings are below it.
The reality is the culture of free things has become so entrenched, if not a norm. Maybe it requires its own enquiry, but I wonder who will institute it. It is for this reason, that despite high bank rates, commercial banks are always ruthless when it comes to demanding sound collateral before they let you take their money.
Private microfinance companies are also known for being so ruthless in how repayments are made despite the disguised softness to access their money. Could it be that banks and other lenders are covering their lending strategies with our appetite for free meals? We could be the problem even if the central bank was successful in its many attempts to mop this money stuff to control inflation and bring rates down. It’s a psyche that defines us.
Just imagine a former politician advocating for a 100 percent taxpayer-funded pension? How many of them are there? How many lunches will the taxpayer fund? What is quite surprising is that the legislature passed a pension law that compels employers to contribute to employees pensions.
The law also expects each one of us to contribute to our individual pensions. The law tactfully excludes those that make this law to contribute to their own future. This is all nothing, but our obsession with everything free. Why should someone get a 100 percent pension from their employer while also accessing public health services for free? At the same time, we are all reluctant to pay taxes and expect the other person to pay for it?
So do not get surprised as the level of innovation is rising to pay for our free lunch galore.
Someone even thought of that useless traffic register card to get as much kwacha to simply pay for our free meals. As long as we love these free things, well the ride will always be bumpy. Countries grow up just like kids do.
Otherwise let us tender to our beautiful crop. Maize is life and power.