a population crush akin to a doomsday cult. I wonder why cheque- book prophets have not picked this line. So what else goes up? Of course the national budget. I never thought our national budget would now be running into a trillion. Using national currencies on the continent, only our friends in Harare hold the record. I still don’t know how many zeros a zillion and its affiliates have.
The trillion dollar budget is of course not a surprise. The kwacha has been a not very good performing currency for some time. I take relief though in its current stability. I will not say who is responsible to avoid the temptation committing a semantic aspersion on the use of the word ‘wise and dynamic’. I still dream in many ways, and one day our currency will be the global reserve currency and we will kiss good bye to these devaluations. Our trillion budget will be real.
But I don’t like to obsess over the kwacha as a reason for the trillion pass. Our population has grown tremendously to 17 million yet our country size is so small. Zambia is much bigger by a factor of five yet has the same number of people. Whether you want to believe the numbers, the evidence is there. Our cities are crowded, so are our hospitals. Universities are not admitting most qualified students. Diploma mills are flourishing as kinds try their luck to get a tertiary qualification. To provide for all these services we can’t avoid a trillion kwacha budget.
Attempts to widen the tax base are commendable. We all need to pay a fair share of taxes. It is quite encouraging that the general public is demanding good services. There is some strength in numbers as long public revenues are used properly, not like the way the construction of roads work. It takes over a year sometimes to complete a kilometer with questionable standards. Tax base expansion to support our trillion budgets will become more efficient if the use to which they are put. Otherwise tax avoidance tends to be linked with perceived capture of tax collection to satisfy illegal personal needs or those of interest groups. The future is bright?
So these explosions are expected but how they are managed is an interesting mind boggler. Can we manage this explosion and get our infrastructure such as roads, banks, water, electricity, housing and other public services cope? We have tough choices ahead and must start to happen now, and beyond the horizon of any presidential term.
The fifty years of independence have been a learning curve and like many others also draw some positives. Whether positives outweigh negatives is a matter of opinion but the essence is how the short falls can be fixed to create a different Malawi by 2069. You got me right. Most of us won’t be there but since countries do not only outlive citizens but are actually bigger than them.
Dealing with a rapidly growing population is one the cardinal foundations in which the Malawi at 100 will be judged. A rapidly rising population will need more food and hence more land. It will need more health facilities and the health system will need to cope with it. An increasing demand of health services does not only mean a huge health budget but an education budget to training more health workers like doctors, nurses and midwives and so on. It also means that training institutions must expand their capacity and introduce more programmes than they do at the moment.
It’s not just the social services like health and health that will need to rise but energy and housing. It could be the right time to set a framework that ensures many Malawians especially in the rural areas are connected to the national grid. Frameworks that deliberately increase generating capacity of electricity more than we need should be a guiding philosophy.
A population threat is real and has many consequences on sustainable growth. Sustainable growth also entails that our environment is protected to minimize natural calamities. Demand for housing might as well mean destruction of the environment through cutting of trees for timber or bricks. We got to think through all this. It might also mean demand for more fuel wood if electricity is not accessible to many or it is unreliable.
The list looks endless but this is how all great countries have developed themselves. They have clearly mapped their visions, have put their countries above anything. Often they ignore planning based on a presidential term.
With sobriety, they often manage current situations with the interest of the country in the long-term. Currently we are operating in a tight budget but it should never remove any leverage in how we negotiate use of our natural resources. The trillion should not scare anyone as it is still too little to deal with our explosive population growth. n