Now that the dust has settled, I would like to extend my hearty congratulations to President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera and Vice-President Saulos Klaus Chilima on their election to the presidency through the June 23 2020 fresh presidential election.
Through the ballot, 58.57 percent of those who cast their votes entrusted the management of the country to the Tonse Alliance ticket pair of Chakwera and Chilima, which contested under the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) ticket.
During the campaign trail, the nine-party Tonse Alliance leaders made a number of glorious promises that might have probably swayed the majority of the voters to give them the key into government.
There was a blend of key promises from manifestos of MCP and UTM Party launched in the run up to the nullified May 21 2019 presidential election. One of them that excited the masses was relating to selling a 50 kilogramme bag of fertiliser at K4 495, instead of the average market price of K21 000, led by Chilima.
Worth noting is that the fertiliser price was promoted or marketed as “universal subsidy”, meaning each one of us would walk into a shop and get his or her bag at K4 495. In reality, though, Minister of Finance Felix Mlusu said there are strings attached to the deal. To qualify, one needs to be a smallholder farmers and the maximum they can get are two bags each.
While the K4 495 price under the Affordable Input Programme (AIP) is lower than the K5 000 an estimated one million beneficiaries of Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) were to pay, it could be a recipe for disaster in the short to medium term if not well balanced.
Pressure points include the increased number of beneficiaries and the burden the same could pose on foreign exchange and domestic revenue in general. Mind you, the public purse will already have lost some pay as you earn (Paye) following the expansion of the zero-rated tax bracket from K45 000 to K100 000.
I expected theMinister of Finance, to explicitly explain the mechanics of the AIP, including the cost implication in the national budget. The ‘discarded’ Fisp was pegged at K35 billion, but was benefitting one million. Its successor is targeting 3.5 million, including 10 kg cereal seed and 20kg legume seed.
Then there is the promise of one million jobs during the first 12 months in charge. This, again, could be a tall order, especially in the face of economic stagnation resulting from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In his provisional budget statement, Mlusu said the increase of Malawi Enterprise Development Fund (Medf) loan allocation from K15 billion to K40 billion, which would “gradually” rise to the promised K75 billion is projected to create employment for at least 600 000 people. Well, in a way, I found the minister to be too simplistic given the realities in the economy right now.
The question of the minimum wage is another potential pressure point to successful implementation of the campaign promises. The reality on the ground is that even at the current rate of K35 000 per month, many middle class families are struggling to pay their domestic workers. There are many being underpaid. Imagine a civil servant taking home K100 000 and is expected to pay his/her domestic worker K50 000? I see many letting go the domestic workers which will in turn worsen the unemployment rate.
During the planned consultations with Malawi Congress of Trade Union and Employers Consultative Association of Malawi, government would do the masses justice if the minimum wage issue is tackled holistically. There should be segmentation of the minimum wage. Honestly, expecting an individual providing food and accommodation to pay at the same rate as a corporate employer is not fair deal.
To quote the campaign promises, Malawians are now in the Promised Land of Canaan flowing with milk and honey.
Not that I doubt the capability of the Chakwera-Chilima leadership. I hold the two in high esteem as go-getters. Nothing is really impossible, but in implementing the promises, it is important that authorities balance the same with realities, otherwise some economic gains made in recent years could be washed away.
Expectations are sky high. There is simply no honeymoon in the presidency.