Hon Folks, my mind is on ‘chitukuko’ (development) as a campaign issue. There’s no denying that voters attach so much premium to it. They ask of the incumbent President, MP or Councillor: “what has he or she done in the past five years?”
They also attend campaign rallies to hear what ‘chitukuko’ pledges the contenders are making so they can decide who among them to vote for. No wonder from back in the days of Bakili Muluzi, presidents tend to brand infrastructural projects starting on their watch by laying foundation stones. They also ensure that projects completed during their tenure are officially opened with funfair.
Take the new Parliament Building, Mzuzu referral hospital and the Karonga Chitipa road for example. All these projects commenced in the reign of Muluzi with funding from Taiwan. When the APM administration later severed ties with Taiwan and moved to Beijing, the latter offered to take over the projects and complete them.
Today, the Parliament Building is sold as DPP initiative under the leadership of Bingu wa Mutharika-the party’s founding President immortalised with a statue which is mounted right within the precincts of the parliament building.
The incumbent argued at the launch of the DPP manifesto for 2019-2024 that the choice in the May 21 tripartite elections is between ‘chitukuko’ which, he claimed, DPP has already embarked on and ‘ndale’ (politicking ) which, he alleged, the other presidential contenders are doing.
As examples of ‘chitukuko’ government cites roads and technical colleges it is building in all parts of the county , the provision of malata (iron sheets) and cement subsidies to the poor, etc.
True, people want these public goods and services. There’s also no denying that infrastructural projects are an indicator of progress in an economy.
Such projects also spur business and job opportunities and create an environment conducive to foreign and domestic investment.
But is infrastructural development per se a necessary and sufficient basis for electing a President? Of the five presidents we’ve had since 1964, it’s hard to point a single one who was a complete flop in that area.
Why? In our case the development budget is funded by donors through loans or grants. All along, donor aid constituted 80 percent of the development budget and government topped up the remaining 20 percent with domestic revenue.
But during APM’s first term this wasn’t exactly the case. The pressure to fund the entire recurrent budget from domestic revenue after donors stopped giving Malawi direct budgetary support due to Cashgate, resulted in domestic revenue channelled to the development budget constituting much less than 20 percent of donor aid.
In addition, three of the four past budgets had their development budget side demolished by mid- year and funds from domestic revenue transferred to shore up the recurrent budget distressed by a growing deficit and pressure to increase political spending.
It follows therefore that although our leaders won’t stop bragging that the roads, schools, bridges and hospitals that are constructed on their watch are proof of their political acumen, the truth is that such development is bound to happen anyway with or without them.
Besides the President, other major players in ensuring that infrastructural development happens are donors who provide funding, technocrats in government who do the paperwork and members of the Legislature who approves the loans and grants. Simply put, infrastructural development can only be a bipartisan affair.
So what leadership roles in development justify renewal of the presidential mandate?
My take is that the President should show leadership by fighting corruption which erodes up to 30 percent of public revenue. That way, the President would help ensure that every tambala allocated to ‘chitukuko’is used for the intended purpose.
Fighting corruption would also help ensure that contracts are obtained on merit and that shoddy workmanship is minimised, thereby giving the taxpayer and the voter, value for money. Many are public buildings that are condemned before they’re occupied and many are roads that develop potholes hardly a year after completion.
The President could also help ensure that development projects are done and completed within set deadlines to avoid cost-overruns. In Malawi it so happens that virtually every project takes twice or thrice the initial timeframe allocated.
Such delays inevitably have a bearing on costs. The longer it takes-the case of Zomba Chitakale via Jali Road-the more costly the project becomes.
Just imagine what the economy is losing when an inefficiently executed development project takes twice as long to finish. The extra funds wasted on it could have been used for one or two other development projects!
Only transformational leadership can make such things happen and this is what voters who care about their country should consider when electing leaders, especially renewing the mandate of the incumbent President.