Hon Folks, as MPs are busy scrutinising the trillion kwacha budget bit by bit, it’s worth asking: how come, despite the mediocrity spanning all the regimes as Finance minister Goodall Gondwe alluded to when presenting the budget two weeks ago, government hasn’t gone bankrupt?
Claiming that he was old enough and economically literate enough to follow the goings on of all administrations–Kamuzu Banda’s, Bakili Muluzi’s, Bingu wa Mutharika’s, Joyce Banda’s and now Peter Mutharika’s–Gondwe observed that no regime had hitherto measured its success by how much there was to show for effective use of funds allocated to various expenditure lines in the budget.
On the flip side, Gondwe also observed that neither has Parliament’s role in the budget gone way beyond the passing of the fiscal blue print to meaningfully track the outcomes of the expenditure lines for which approval was sought and granted.
As a result, Gondwe noted, once funding was approved by Parliaments, the funds often ended up being abused or used for non-intended purposes. Although he was bold enough to describe this as mediocrity, he fell short of attributing our economic woes to mediocre political leadership of the Presidents we’ve had so far.
They have deliberately nurtured poverty so they could gain cheap political mileage by embarking on costly political campaign trips to various parts of the country–bags of maize, cash or brown envelopes and, of course, MBC cameras and microphones in tow—so they could be seen as caring leaders who have the welfare of ordinary people at heart.
Now, 21 years after adopting the multiparty government as a better political tool for galvanising the people to unleash their collective creative genius on poverty, illiteracy and disease, the opposite is evident.
Half the population of 17 million is food insecure this year, a record flop since the days of Kamuzu despite the billions invested over the years in Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp). The economy only grows in budget projections but the opposite happens when assessing the actual growth towards the end of the fiscal year.
The real growth politicians don’t want to talk about is in population. We are among the highest growing nations even by African standards where large families are cherished. I guess the silence is due to fear of offending the more conservative rural folks who constitute 85 percent of the population, the voters. If you asked me, this too is a sign of political mediocrity.
Another indisputable growth is in the gap between the rich and the poor. Already believed to be the most skewed in the world, commercialised government services without meaningful safety nets is pushing the have-nots deep into abject poverty and deprivation.
An example of this is in education. It’s easier for “a camel to pass through the eye of the needle” nowadays than for a brilliant and hard-working child of rural-based widow living on less than a dollar a day to access quality secondary and university education which costs millions.
On the other hand, the commercialisation of higher public education makes it easier for a dunderhead of child privileged to be born in a rich family to find a way into the university through mature or self-sponsored entry and end up with a qualification that increases prospects for a well-paying job. That only means one thing, the door through which some of us—children of rural poor widows—entered the world of opportunities is shut to many of our kind born in these days of political mediocrity.
Which bring me back to the question: how come the government isn’t bankrupt despite the political mediocrity? The answer is simple: it thrives by impoverishing its citizens more through tax.
Governments the world over thrive on tax revenue. The difference is that pragmatic political leaders use public revenue to create an atmosphere conducive enough for the citizens to generate more wealth, create more jobs and pay more taxes.
On the other hand, mediocre political leaders, tax their citizens so they personally can live in Hollywood opulence, amassing billions while doing little, if any, to support wealth and job creation. They squeeze more milk from the withered teats of a sick cow knowing it’s the cow that will have to die first.