Between 2006 and 2009, I was a die-hard member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Of course I do not belong to any party now. My contribution to the party was dismal. It stopped at donning a blue donated T-shirt and attending every rally.
Whenever there was a function, the party footed all the bills. It paid for our (because we were many) transportation, meals, accommodation and even showered us with hefty allowances.
It’s not that I was so poor that I could not contribute a little money for the running of the party. But, honestly, the party had an embedded institutional discrimination that allowed few officials, led by the president, to be the party’s financiers and all of us just beneficiaries.
Now, given such a big brother (our party’s seniors) and housemates (members) relationship, would you really, in times when the party made unpopular decisions, expect me to raise my voice and fault the ‘seniors’? Even if I could do, can I be heard?
This kind of relationship is no different from the relationship most Malawians have with their government.
Our post-colonial leaders—in a hegemonic quest to keep every Malawian looking to government for development answers—have always justified undesirable subsidies.
Subsidised education. Subsidised health care. Subsidised farm inputs. Subsidised iron sheets. Subsidised cement. Subsidised passports. And etceteras…
Yes, we are a poor nation. However, the proliferation of subsidies in an economy so malaise and vulnerable like ours is quite disturbing. There are too many undesirable subsidies that have been invoked based on misunderstanding or manipulation of Malawi’s poverty.
Do we need a universal subsidy in university education when, according to research, most of the students come from well-to-do families? Do we need a subsidy for iron sheets and cement—such luxurious goods? Do we need universal subsidy in our hospitals? Do we?
I have always believed that government’s role is to create a conducive environment for its people to develop themselves.
But the case in Malawi is somewhat bizarre. We have a government that wants to pay for my daughters’ everything. Are we saying we, as parents, our duty should stop at procreating?
Or consider the challenge of girl’s education. When a girl drops out in Standard Five and gets married, we all blame government for not doing enough to educate the girl child. We are talking about a girl who stays under the management of a parent. Why should parents take up a role of ensuring that their girls stay in school? The reason is simple: Government, through the free everything theory, assumed the parentage of all the children in Malawi.
Honestly, we have a generation of irresponsible parents that is giving birth to another generation of irresponsible children and the process, if left unattended to, will continue to recur.
I am sure time is now. We need to rethink the relationship between us, the people and our government. And this rethink should begin with the proposal by the Ministry of Health to introduce bypass fees in public hospitals. In fact, I would have loved if there was a small fee in all public hospitals.
Well, some could argue that most Malawians are poor, as such, they cannot afford payments. But go to the villages today. Through Village Savings Loan (VSL), a group of 20 women from the so-called poorest villages can manage to raise 20 million in a year and share. And they buy iron sheets, cement, pay for their children’s education and, I am strongly convinced, they can contribute a little to their health care. Is this poverty? Our people have various creative ways of managing themselves. What government increased subsidies achieve is only to such creativity.n