Honourable Folks, I’m not surprised government has not paid much attention to the damning Oxford University study that shows, at the rate we are going, Malawi needs at least 74 years to eradicate its poverty (The Daily Times, March 22).
Indeed what would have been unusual is for our political leaders in government to focus attention on a story that does not portray a positive image of the country at a time their eyes are trained on the 2014 elections.
They really would have loved to hear such a reputable academic institution endorse the outlandish claim that the Economic Recovery Plan of the JB administration would take us out of poverty in five years or less, not 74 years!
Their counterparts in opposition are equally embarrassed. Except for the smaller and emerging parties, the major serious contenders in the 2014 polls—MCP, UDF and DPP—have all been in government and contributed handsomely to the mess we’re in today.
Yes, mess or how else would you describe our situation in which almost 50 years after attaining independence, over half the population of 14 million is languishing in poverty with about 3.5 million living in dire poverty such that without food aid they can only starve!
The situation Malawi is in today is exactly the mess each of the past three State presidents—Kamuzu Banda, Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika—promised to get us out of.
Kamuzu later did his own assessment declared that “there was no question of hunger, no question of dire poverty either.” Muluzi promised to “alleviate poverty” in his first term, “eradicate poverty” in his second term and only to leave us worse off at the end of his second tenure of office in 2004 than we had been in 1992—two years before he assumed office.
On his part, Mutharika largely used economic growth induced by the success of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), especially in its first four years, as proof of his government’s success in ensuring food security and poverty reduction.
In retrospect, Mutharika got it right in investing significantly in agriculture, the major occupation of 80 percent of the population.
His plan of the greenbelt revolution where mechanised farming would have supplemented the hoe and irrigation, rain-fed farming, seem to have a lot of potential in filling the gaps in Fisp, spurring agro-based economic development and, ultimately, using the rich soil and the expanse of fresh water running the entire length of the country—the natural resources our country is endowed with in abundance—for improving the living standards of the people.
But Mutharika was in a hurry to claim all the credit for the success of the time to himself so that he grossly failed to manage the interests of key stakeholders in his government’s development agenda—the opposition, civil society organisations, the media and faith communities on the local scene and neighbouring countries and western donors on the international scene.
The result was tragic: the greenbelt revolution never really rolled out, the aid we needed so much to keep us going as we built our economy vanished and better-off neighbours, especially Zambia and Mozambique, kept us at arms length. Consequently, not even the Shire-Zambezi Waterway Project—a symbol of Mutharika’s ability to dream in colour—could take off despite the pomp and ceremony that marked its ceremonial launch.
There’s no denying that the JB administration inherited a country battered by maladministration dating back to 1964. The question is: Is her administration any better? Or, better still, what can the JB administration do differently so we can reduce poverty sooner than in 74 years?
My take is that Malawi should learn from Paul Kagame’s administration. Rwanda may not be a good example on respect for individual liberties and human rights but very few governments in Africa can match it in using taxpayers’ money effectively for national development and investing in its own human capital.
As much as possible, jobs in government are filled on merit and government employees, including Cabinet ministers, have to deliver to keep their jobs. Rwanda has also effectively used technology in the collection of government revenue and the fight against corruption.
What eventually emerges in Kigali is a government spurred by the core value of providing public goods and services to Rwandans. In Malawi, being in government is like pay day for supporting the party that won the elections: travelling in chauffeur-driven Mercs, claiming obscene allowances and creating dubious companies to do business with government.
Any wonder that Rwanda, which in 1994 was embroiled in a senseless genocide in which about 800 000 were killed, is only 10 years away from halving its poverty levels and 20 years away from eradicating it altogether while Malawi, which has never experienced civil strife, can eradicate acute poverty in 74 years?
It’s up to us Malawians to wake up and demand that a greater part of our taxes go to productive spending and not paying for first class cabin seats as leaders trot the globe while the people they represent are eating straw.