The Vision 2020 Malawi mission statement, which was supposed to be a rallying point for the development of the country, has now become an inspiration for ridicule on social media and self-reflection, among technocrats.
A review of the programme last year confirmed what Malawians have known for a long time; that the policy failed to deliver on its targets. And quite recently, renowned economists and technocrats have revealed two more gaping holes in the policy that undermined its capacity to spur economic transformation.
To begin with, the framers of the Constitution did not identify sectors that would anchor and drive economic growth, nor did they set up monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to appraise what was working and what failed to produce results.
In the past 20 years, government has blindly grappled with “reforms” targeting different sectors such as agriculture, mining, tourism and much more recently, mining.
Unfortunately, none have managed to spur the transformation required to transition Malawi into a middle-income economy. This is something that needs to be rectified in the design and development of the Vision 2063.
Naturally, some naysayers have emerged, proclaiming that Malawi does not have the resources or the will to achieve “an overly ambitious dream” of transitioning to a middle-income economy.
I beg to differ. From my vintage point, I strongly feel Malawi has more than enough resources to eradicate extreme poverty in the short-term and yes, even achieve middle-income status by 2063.
All the technocrats at Capital Hill and the consultants advising them need to do is to implement viable and workable reforms to revitalise the foundations that were built during implementation of the 20-year period Vision 2020 was operational.
Granted, it might not be a strong foundation but it is still something the country can build on. Like all, agrarian economies, Malawi should base its economic growth on agriculture in the short-term with view to industrialising in the medium and long-term.
A lot of resources have already been channelled towards the agriculture sector. In the current budget, government allocated K35.5 billion to the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) to subsidise production for 900 000 farmers.
The only problem with the Fisp, in its current iteration, is that there is a lot of expenditure that is going into consumption. The first reform option could be to channel this expenditure to areas in the agricultural sector that can guarantee a viable return on investment or at the very least ensure that the beneficiaries graduate from the programme.
If these funds were channelled into promoting irrigation and mechanised agriculture to agricultural cooperatives, there is a strong likelihood that government would increase production at least two-fold; hence, promote food security.
To cap it all off, the targeted groups of farmers would have the machinery in subsequent seasons, leaving funds available to target different groups every year or cycle and subsequently reduce their dependence on government subsidies. We would be increasing the scope of coverage instead of reducing the number of beneficiaries.
As a second reformatory measure, government can target farmers in subsectors with larger value chains and the capacity to spur economic activity in subsectors with readily available markets to mitigate against risk.
As it stands now, government and the private sector have been investing in cotton ginning to promote value addition. Considering that we have government agencies such as the police, immigration services, public hospitals, primary and secondary schools that use uniforms, there is a vast untapped market for this sector.
All that is needed is a procurement reform to ensure that these agencies are buying from local suppliers; hence, kickstart Malawi’s drive towards import substitution.
From a layman’s perspective, I think these are workable policy and procurement reforms that would inch us closer to eradicating poverty with resources that are currently available ad are already being invested in the economy.
In the medium term, Malawi can focus on developing the infrastructural sector. As it stands now, there is a high demand for housing and office space in urban and semi-urban areas. Why not invest in the struggling Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) to meet this demand and generate a profit along the way. These profits that can be channelled to other areas such as public service delivery and all.
All in all, economic transformation is possible, it just needs the right policy to ensure that available funds are channelled to profitable areas and productive areas.