In the 50 years that Malawi has been self-governing and independent, it has received billions of kwacha if not dollars in aid. If foreign aid purse were an open sesame to prosperity, Malawians would be swimming in wealth.
Some countries in the world which started their independence with scanty resources have gone far ahead of Malawi in economic development, to find the reasons would require patient research and documentation. What I want to talk about here is the need for transparency about the aid and loans we get. Transparency is necessary because aid and loans are obtained on behalf of the people and the people deserve to know more details.
Since President Joyce Banda came to office in April 2012, Malawi has received grants and loans from a variety of countries such as United Kingdom, Scotland, Norway, Germany, EU and Japan, among many others. Upon hearing about these grants and loans, one is tempted to think that every one of our national problem is being taken care of.
It is highly desirable that records of these grants and loans be compiled. At the start of a new financial year, we, members of the public, should be informed about what sort of aid we received, how it has been utilised and the improvements that it has brought about.
It has been said that there is no free lunch in the business world. People would like to know what sort of reciprocity Malawi is going to give for these apparently very generous grants and loans.
In the days I served in the civil service both in the colonial and Kamuzu era, the Department or Ministry of Information used to publish annual reports that provided facts and figures on the activities of each department or ministry in the previous year. This practice seems to have been given up.
According to The Nation of Tuesday March 26 2013, Malawi is to borrow $10 million from Botswana. This is good news. But remember an Oxford adage that a loan is like an umbrella that you borrow in fine weather and you are required to return in foul weather. At the beginning of each financial year, we should also have a tabulation of how many loans we received in the previous year, how we used them, what were the results and what are the assets from which we shall repay the loans. Reckless borrowing to pacify interest and pressure groups is the cause of almost all the debt problems that have gripped countries all over the world.
About Malawian agriculture, most of the time we read of fertiliser subsidy programmes. Apparently, some people think if the subsides are increased, all will be well and fine for the Malawian smallholder. This is too sanguine.
Serious thought should be given to problems other than soil fertility. Apart from question of productivity, the Malawian faces economic and social problems. The peasant of today grows cereals and other crops not just for self-sufficiency consumption, but as a method of acquiring conventional necessities. The peasant is now part of the money economy. He wants to sell his products at a remunerative price.
In the year of a bumper harvest, prices of cereals fall and the consumer rejoices, but the farmer grumbles and talks of reducing the hecterage that he assigns to food production. The question is during years of surplus food production, how do we ensure that the farmers income does not fall?
Problem two is about landlessness and land shortage. In the Southern Region, some families are being assisted to move districts and regions where the land problem is less acute. But it is not difficult to imagine the country reaching a situation where there is no spare land anywhere and people will be drawing daggers around each other for the little that is available.
To the ordinary African, land is more than an economic asset. It is the basis of all that we call life. A piece of land is a home, source of security. A person may not have money, but if they have a piece of land on which they have erected his hut, they enjoy a sense of self-respect. If you take them away from their land you create a vagabond and potential criminal.
The problems of agriculture should be subjected to study by agricultural scientists, agricultural economists and sociologists. They should make a recommendation on long-term policies.