Hon Folks, the news that London won’t be getting back to budget support even if all the holes on Malawi’s public finance management system are sealed brings to mind the warning: “there shall be consequences.”
It came when former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, corrupted by the whopping 64.3 percent of the popular vote he garnered in the 2009 presidential election, expelled British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet.
He did not stop there. He openly criticised western donors, saying they use aid as a tool for imposing on Africans a neo-colonialist agenda, including forcing people to embrace same-sex marriages.
A financing model meant to wean Malawi from dependence on western aid called zero-deficit budgeting was adopted. Its implementation underscored one thing: a deliberate U-turn from what worked between 2004 and 2009 when good economic governance coupled with steady aid inflows and the forgiveness in 2006 of the bulk of Malawi foreign debt, resulted in sterling economic growth rate by 7.5 percent.
Transparency, accountability and respect for human rights were thrown to the wind, replaced with some form of dictatorship which, when mentioned in a leaked diplomatic mail, led to the expulsion of Cochrane-Dyet.
Politicians at the Capital Hill usurped the power of market forces in determining the value of the kwacha and the sale of forex was also heavily regulated. The politicians went as far as manipulating domestic revenue collection figures!
It should be pointed out that during Bingu’s first term, Britain led the pack of bilateral donors—besides helping us also through multilateral channels—and we enjoyed a priority status when aid to other countries was stuck in the mud of “donor fatigue.”
We’re given another chance, for a meaningful take-off to prosperity. Instead, our pilot deliberately engaged the reverse gear and made us crash-land. Our economy has never recovered from the failure of the so-called zero-deficit budget.
Cashgate which, audit has shown, was rampant from 2009 to 2014 (I bet it’s been prevalent throughout the 21 years of multiparty democracy) aggravated by the double-whammy of floods and drought, have eroded our resilience so much that the story of our life still hovers on the very begging economic independence was meant to dodge.
In his New Year address, APM said patriotic Malawians who cherish economic independence should feel proud that last year we managed without budget support and his government did not collapse.
What he did not reveal in that speech is the price the impoverished Malawians paid—Luanar has just revealed that up to 50 percent of the students selected to that institution do not graduate. They fall by the way side due to failure to raise fees now at K250 000 a semester.
What is true at Luanar may also be equally true at other public universities–Mzuzu University, Malawi University of Science and Technology and the University of Malawi where tuition fees has grown overnight from K25 000 to K230 000 a semester.
Equally true, in my opinion, is that the majority of the dropouts are from households living on less than a dollar a day, most of which are in rural Malawi. In the long run, such deprivation of high education to the poor will widen further the gap between the haves and the have-nots which, we are told, is already probably the widest in the world.
Already, the Legal Aid Bureau has shut its doors to its clients due to lack of funding and the victim here is also the have-not who can’t afford the services of a private lawyer whose charge per hour is equivalent to the monthly wage of a public primary school teacher.
We are at the crossroads where a choice has to be made. First, we have to accept that donors have given up on providing us with budgetary support (up to 40 percent of which was aid) and, their contribution to the development budget (it used to be up to 80 percent) is dwindling with time. We also have to admit that effects of the climatic change are here to stay.
I see our survival not by moving from subsistent farming to industrialisation overnight as politicians like to lie to us, but by moving from subsistent to commercial farming, maximising yield per acre with government helping on two areas—investing in irrigation and helping the small farmers who have been exploited over the years on the marketing side of the value chain.
On its part, government whose tax collecting arm—Malawi Revenue Authority—is failing to meet its targets, must simply change its extravagant lifestyle and borrow a leaf from John Magufuli of Tanzania or Paul Kagame of Rwanda. APM should ensure that public funds are wisely utilised and for the intended purpose. Losing up to 30 percent of revenue to corruption, fraud and inefficiency is unacceptable.