The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) II which was being implemented from 2011 expired at the end of June 2016. Like its predecessor, the MGDS I, it was formulated to meet the United Nation’s (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Now that MDGs expired in 2015 and has been replaced by Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is imperative for Malawi to develop a new development strategy that will be in sync with SDGs. The idea to have a development strategy for the nation started way back with Development Policies (Devepol) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank’s infamous Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs).
Then, the country adopted the Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (MPRSP) for debt relief and the Vision 2020. The journey has been long and winding and things are always in a state of flux.
This article casts a critical and sober analysis on the performance of MGDS II. In fact, unlike its predecessor, MGDS II did not register much progress. It is arguable that minimal progress was as a result of a combination of factors such as suspension of direct budget support by bilateral and multilateral donors, climatic factors such as floods, El Nino and dry spells. The whole process from inputs, activities, outcomes and overall impact was a mess.
Some politicians from one spectrum of Malawi’s politics take delight in waxing lyrical on these factors and exonerate themselves, singling out mediocre leadership in the process.
Politicians from the other side of Malawi’s politics and other commentators give prominence on mediocre leadership factoring out climatic factors. Such is the case in Malawi’s politics.
Unlike its predecessor, MGDS II has been implemented under three regimes. The first Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) led by late president Bingu wa Mutharika, the Peoples Party (PP) under former president Joyce Banda and the second DPP led by Peter Mutharika.
Successful implementation of MGDS II largely depended on sound macroeconomic management and stable political environment. This was the basis of attracting investments and mobilising resources with which to finance the budget, according to the MGDS II. At the inception stage of MGDS II, there was no fiscal indiscipline by those in authority.
The MGDS I that run from 2006 to 2011 envisioned that the country could be food secure, with rapid economic growth and reliable infrastructure given its potential. The country became food secure and was able to achieve maize surplus for at least five years. The economy grew, on average, by 7.5 percent over a five-year period, against the projected six percent.
However, during the time of MGDS II implementation, economic growth has been subdued, infrastructural projects have been minimal and the country is food insecure. The two development strategies have registered contrasting results. This is how one would sum it up.
The objective of the MGDS II was wealth creation and reduction of poverty through sustainable economic growth and infrastructure development. The expectation was that MGDS II would sustain achievements made in MGDS I and accelerate the transformation of the country from being a predominantly importing and consuming economy to a predominantly producing and exporting economy.
Five years down the line, the picture that comes out is diametrically opposite. Malawi is still a predominantly importing and consuming country and what is worrisome is that the country is importing maize. Disasters are inevitable indeed.
Let us now delve into the MGDS II. The strategy had six thematic areas, namely sustainable economic growth, social development, social support and disaster risk management, infrastructure development, governance and gender and capacity development. The strategy had nine key priority areas, namely agriculture and food security; energy, industrial development, mining and tourism; transport infrastructure and Nsanje World Inland Port; education, science and technology; public health, sanitation, malaria and HIV and Aids management; integrated rural development; Green Belt Irrigation and water development; child development, youth development and empowerment and climate change, natural resources and environmental management.
It goes without question that sustainable economic growth as a theme did not register progress because it was stipulated that its emphasis was maximising the contribution of potential growth sectors such as agriculture, mining, tourism while creating an enabling environment for public sector participation and development, fostering job creation, empowering rural communities, ensuring equitable access to land and sustainable use of the environment.
In this regard the agriculture sector suffered severe shocks, and such being the case, took a lion’s share from government’s subventions especially due Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) and the purchase of maize. Some commentators speaking from the periphery have waxed lyrical that Fisp is a white elephant. They unequivocally argue that prioritising irrigation could be a mammoth undertaking.
On the same, private sector participation was compromised due to economic challenges. Job creation was also a challenge. Government, which is the main employer, failed to recruit some trained young professionals and unemployment rate is still high.
Under the thematic area of social development, the same sad story unfolds. Education standards dwindled in this material time. To thicken the resource envelop, government hiked fees for secondary schools and public universities. In health, shortage of drugs and food became pervasive. Ambulances were grounded.
Social support and disaster risk management as a thematic area came handy, owing to disasters such as floods and drought. The Department of Disaster and Management Affairs (Dodma) became active and well-wishers from here and abroad intervened.
Infrastructure development did not register much progress as well. Main infrastructure developments are Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe and rehabilitation of Blantyre-Zomba Road, which is called John Chilembwe Highway.
The MGDS II document is clear that successful implementation of this development strategy depends on the prevalence of good governance. Focus was placed on four sub-themes, namely economic governance, corporate governance, democratic governance and public sector management. Under economic governance, the country witnessed government expanding its tax base and the issue of micro, small and medium enterprises is still enjoying currency, especially from those in the private sector. In 2012, we saw government merging Small and Medium Enterprise Development of Malawi (Sedom), Development of Malawian Traders Trust (Dematt) and Malawi Enterprise Development Institute (Medi) to form Small and Medium Enterprises Development Institute (Smedi).However, the business environment was hostile to the entrepreneur.
On public sector management, there was a deliberate attempt by government to introduce public sector reforms. Effective public sector management was necessary for efficiency in the delivery of public goods and services. It is important that these reforms are operationalised holistically with urgency and zeal.
On gender, not much progress has been made. Women representation in Parliament plummeted following their dismal performance in the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections. On the same, a few women councillors were elected.
In energy, industrial development, mining and tourism, little progress was made. Paladin (Africa) Limited, which was mining uranium at Kayelekera in Karonga suspended its operations in February 2014 due to plummeting of uranium prices on the global market. The mine has been put on care and maintenance. The closure of the mine resulted in the contribution of the mining sector to gross domestic product (GDP) dropping from 10 percent to around six percent.
In the same period of MGDS II implementation, industries were not created and the existing ones were incapacitated due to economic challenges. The kwacha was devalued and the gutter lived in grinding poverty and want. Black outs were not uncommon, a setback to industrial development.
The Nsanje World Inland Port remains a white elephant. Not much was done under the Green Belt Initiative and water development and for political reasons, priority was given to Fisp.
As the country awaits the post MGDS II, government should be resilient to climatic change and taking weather changes as a scapegoat, and in turn, exonerating itself cannot be a good way to go. It is said that development is about resilience and resilience is about development. n