Hon. Folks, I bet APM has a good reason to accuse his cronies of mediocrity even in their area of specialisation—pretence. The other day they used valued tax-payer’s money on radio and television adverts, congratulating him on winning back IMF’s extended credit facility (ECF) for highly indebted countries.
Poor Malawi, we’re so dazed with vice that doing the right thing is taken for a milestone! Yet, when APM declared a State of National Disaster at the dawn of the harvesting season so donors can start giving us aid to avert hunger, the cheerleaders reacted with a deafening silence.
They had forgotten APM needed a handclap after telling us that the second crop estimate shows that maize yield this year will be 12 percent worse off than last year, which translates into a risk of 3 million or more hunger-related deaths.
If these folks didn’t see a good reason for giving H.E. another round of applause for raising the alarm early, at least they should’ve praised him for deciding to circulate the beggar’s bowl.
Declaring a State of National Disaster is a tested strategy that served us so well last year when prolonged drought and devastating floods rendered 2.8 million Malawians hunger-prone. Isn’t it a mark of transformational leadership to make a similar declaration early enough this year when two other leaders in the region have also declared states of disaster?
Who knows what would’ve been the cost of delay in making the declaration? An early bird catches the worm, doesn’t it?
But let’s get some perspective for the challenge before us namely, how to manage deficit. Today, it’s food deficit which is superimposed on our perennial challenge since we attained independence in 1964: financial deficit.
Yes, up to 80 percent of the development budget and up to 40 percent of the recurrent budget is the gap, or deficit, that rears its ugly face during budget time. Aid used to be the gap-filler until 2013 when pilferage forced donors to stop providing budget support and disbursed much of the developmental aid (indications show it’s on the decline) through non-governmental channels.
Government introduced the so-called zero-aid budget but one thing is clear on the outset—harder though MRA tries, it’s failing to meet, let alone beat, its revenue targets, forcing government to scale down on its provision of public services which, in turn, is creating a hostile environment for the building of the economy and the generation of wealth.
APM tells us that we should feel proud to wean ourselves from donor aid and live on our own locally generated revenue. Of course, proponents of this argument avoid talking about the cost—drug shortage, increased labour disputes especially in the public sector and generally economic decline.
Many also avoid looking at this argument from the fact that it’s political mediocrity, a curse of the multiparty era resulting in aid flight. Instead, they say there’s no dignity for 52-year-old Malawi depending on handouts.
The question is: Is food aid any more dignified than financial aid?
Prolonged drought and floods aren’t going away anytime soon. They are factors of climatic change, the greenhouse effect. So, this being the second year of begging, where’s the cut-off point?
Our scientists and policy makers have for years gallivanted metropolitan cities of our global village, attending workshops and high level meetings. They know that natural disasters haven’t spared any part of the world.
They also know our friends on the same globe grapple with more devastating disasters such as tsunami, earthquakes and wildfires. There are whole countries or cities on the verge of being swallowed up the raging sea! The difference between them and us is that while they are putting to use the research knowledge shared at the same meetings we attend together to beat the odds, we are simply contented with the status quo.
We can invest anything between K40 billion and K60 billion in fertiliser subsidy without mitigating for the risks associated with rain-fed agriculture. God favoured us with Lake Malawi and the Shire River which together run through the entire length of Malawi, yet every year, all we do is watch that water flow into the Zambezi and Indian Ocean.
We brag about being an agricultural economy, yet we haven’t learned anything from the Egyptians who have for many years used the Nile River to water their crops!
Talk about crop diversification started while Kamuzu was at the helm, yet today—nearly 20 years after Kamuzu’s death—not even a formidable global campaign against tobacco, our number one cash crop, has jolted us out of slumber.
The population, now at over 17 million, is rated among the world’s fastest growing, yet there’s no clear policy for managing it and subsistent farming—the preoccupation of the majority of rural communities who make up 85 percent of the population—is done much the same way it was done in the 19th Century. They use the hoe, plant once in a year, harvesting less than a third of the land’s potential and losing more than a third their meagre harvest to weevils.
Our parents with little or no education conserved the natural trees along the rivers and on the hillside. Today, we are more educated but behave like army-worms, destroying the very natural resources our lives depend on with absolute abandon.
Our government is clueless on charting the way forward. APM talks about food security, economic growth and the need to strive for economic independence, yet in his hand—and for the second time in the two years he has been at the helm—is the beggar’s bowl he despises with a passion.