Hon Folks, what constitutes development in Malawi? Adamson Muula, in the last issue of Nation on Sunday, observed that development is interpreted as construction work here.
This certainly appears to be what politicians, especially presidents, think is what matters most in the voter rating of their performance.
How else do you explain why every president in Malawi since Kamuzu Banda has made local travel to be about opening a road, a bridge, a school, a hospital or something?
If not opening, it’s about pledging to construct or laying a foundation stone. Such local trips are given huge budgetary allocations even in an economically difficult year such as 2016 when half the population is on the verge of starving to death! Why?
The truth is that politicians believe that success in politics here is largely measured by some construction work that voters can see and appreciate. Which is why, I believe, presidents and their cronies would never agree to take partisan politics out of development.
Any artefact built with public funds on their watch is somewhat branded. APM christened the stadium in Lilongwe Bingu after his late brother who was State President between 2004 and 2012.
I hear his predecessor, Joyce Banda and her cronies had their own ideas on how to brand the stadium. I also hear the road between Karonga and Chitipa is again to be named after Bingu even though some people are against the idea.
Trust me, the North has the swing vote for the 2019 elections the real battle of which is between APM who has the South as a stronghold, and Lazurus Chakwera who has the Centre as a stronghold. A road here, a school there in the North, properly branded, helps the case of APM who had the disadvantage of being required to have something to show for the five years he has been in office.
So, folks in the North, now is the time to make hay. Demand chitukuko, even demand that government should stop the quota system and build more universities instead. Chances are high that APM will listen more now than after 2019, if at all he retains the presidency.
But wait a moment? Why should construction work be a measure of whether a president is a star performer or a miserable flop?
It’s donors who foot the bill. Yes, up to 80 percent of the development budget has all along been funded by donors. This year, Goodall Gondwe has further reduced government’s paltry contribution to the development budget, thereby increasing the percentage of donor contribution by default.
Shouldn’t we then be basing our assessment of the performance of an elected president on effective use of the donor-funded development budget? If you look closely, virtually all construction projects in Malawi end up being rocked in cost overruns.
Yet when it comes to official opening of such projects, a president simply owns and brands it “work of my hands,” completely ignoring the fact that it’s our children who will shoulder the extra huge cost-burden caused by the inefficiency of their government in managing the project.
Last week, Britain and the US warned that Malawi risks losing their support towards the procurement of drugs if pilferage, estimated at 30 percent, continues unabated.
As a country which looks to donors for 95 percent of the funding for drugs in public hospitals, our president, APM, should be made to realise that it’s not opening Nkhata Bay Hospital, or any public structure built with donor money that matters.
Rather, it should be what his government do to contain the rampant theft of drugs from public hospitals which, besides scaring away donors, may lead to an increase in needless deaths from curable diseases.
It should be about governance, not construction or laying foundation stones or making empty pledges at partisan political rallies done under the pretext of State functions. n