Honourable Folks, that necessity is the mother of invention can be attested to by the awakening of Malawians to the country’s economic situation.
When I was growing up, words such as inflation, interest rate, devaluation and floatation were economic jargon the majority of us could do without. Unless a poet intends to bamboozle semi-literate dictators, why use them to mess up the verse in iambic pentameter?
But nowadays, these terms are known to both the village farmer and the town clerk. I don’t mean knowing what they mean in economics, that’s for miserable economists and folks in fiscal management in government to worry about. The rest of us know devaluation and floatation as measures the International Monetary Fund (IMF) set as a condition for giving the JB administration aid.
We also know that while the implementation of floatation and devaluation at once opened the aid tap, it also triggered high inflation and interest rates which led to closure of businesses, loss of jobs and generally pushed the majority of us down the cliff of abject poverty.
In government itself, while there’s no denying that foreign aid has greatly helped ease the shortage of fuel and forex, floatation and devaluation led to acute shortage of drugs in our hospitals and aggravated overspending which necessitated substantial tweaking of allocations in the supplementary budget.
To date, our teachers don’t know when they’ll get their miserable salaries. Once upon a time, payment of salaries in the civil service used to be done by the 27th of each month. In fact, the original Ngwazi, Dr. Kamuzu Banda, used to cite delays in payment to government workers as a sign of dysfunctional government. He must be turning in the mausoleum!
If you were in Malawi in 1992, you’d recall that economic hardships triggered labour unrest, especially in the industrial sector. For probably the first time since independence, workers in the private sector engaged law enforcers in running battles over a demand for wage increases.
So bad was the industrial unrest that neither the cracking of the gun on the street nor the roaring of the lion president at Sanjika was good enough to rouse terror among the disgruntled industrial workers. Only a negotiated fair deal did the trick!
But this time, it’s different. The quiet in the industrial sector is unprecedented. It’s only public sector workers who have staged demos, demanding as high as 113 percent pay hike to cushion them against the rising cost of living. Does it mean the private sector now has born again workers?
I’d like to believe that the stability in the wealth generating private sector is due to the realisation and conviction of the workers there that the negative impact of government decision to devalue and float the currency at once did not spare the employer either.
Except in the banking sector, companies aren’t growing. They’ve stagnated, scaled down operations or folded altogether. In such a scenario, industrial workers have wisely chosen to bite the lower lip and make do with the little there is.
Which is why, as MPs—the so-called elected representatives of the people (no pun intended but these folks tend to represent more their personal interests and the partisan interests of their parties)—are about to meet, discuss and pass the 2013 budget, they should for once make decisions based on the reality of the precarious situation we are in.
We all know that MPs want fuel hikes in arrears. They also want salary increases. In the year of elections, they also want an increase in Constituency Development Fund most likely so they create a river where there’s none and then construct a bridge over it.
Their insatiable hunger for public funds this time dove-tails nicely with government’s own whetted appetite for election spending. MPs may be tempted to live by the adage, one favour deserves another and engage the Executive in a trade exchange of a sort by offering to pass any budget as long as the executive gives them fuel arrears and the increased constituency funding.
The hope of salvaging what remains of our private sector and ensuring continued peace and calm among private sector employees—which government desperately needs for its Economic Recovery Plan (ERP)—rests in the delicate balance between the interest of government to spend more in an election year and the private sector interest to be taxed less in hard economic times when the capacity to generate wealth dwindles by the day.
Only MPs can save the economy by preventing the Executive arm of government from engaging the extravagance gear.