The campaign period leading up to the May 21 Tripartite Elections heralded a season of change on the political landscape. It was clear from the onset that Malawians were disillusioned with government’s performance especially on macro-economic performance indicators such as growth and employment.
While the previous regime, led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and newly-elected President Peter Mutharika, did a commendable job in keeping inflation below 10 percent for most of the campaign, its performance in promoting growth as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) and creating jobs, was mediocre at best.
Growth hovered between 2.7 and 4.5 percent, well below the DPP’s seven percent target, much less than the required threshold to reduce poverty and promote inclusion for the country’s marginalised population.
On top of that, thousands of our youth could not secure employment after graduating. The few who were lucky to secure jobs are either under-employed or saddled with an unforgiving tax regime that reduces their disposable income.
It was against this backdrop that opposition candidates formulated their political campaigns and manifestos along policies focusing on job creation and promoting inclusive growth. Former vice-president Saulos Chilima and the new kid on the block under the UTM Party took the nation by storm with their audacious claim to create one million jobs in the first year upon election.
Refusing to be undone, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) candidate Lazarus Chakwera promised to raise the tax bracket to K100 000 from the current K35 000. If ever there was an issue-based campaign that resonated with the dreams and aspirations of ordinary Malawians, this was it.
These were ambitious and out-of-the-box thinking that Malawians were looking for after five years of perceived economic malaise by the DPP-led administration.
Granted, these claims seem far-fetched considering Malawi’s paltry growth rate and its soaring debt. At the moment Malawi cannot support the jobs in the public sector, with a vacancy rate currently standing at 40 percent.
It has been projected that reducing the rate would push the wage bill to an unsustainable level of the K550 billion per year based on the indicative figures of the current wage levels in the public service. At that rate, the wage bill would be placed at 12 percent of the nominal GDP ratio, which is three percentage points higher than the recommended 9 percent under the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Extended Credit Facility (ECF) programme.
Likewise, raising the tax bracket to K100 000 would have taken the people who earn below that amount off the tax bracket; hence, undermining the nation’s prospects for higher revenue generation.
Regardless, these proposals could have made a difference for Malawians if the political leaders and technocrats pooled their resources together to formulate the right policy orientation to support them.
The jobs need not have been created in the public service alone. With the right investment and a conduncive business environment these jobs could have been created in the informal or private sectors.
And with the right leveraging of resources, the taxes lost from Pay as You Earn (Paye) could have been recouped in VAT or any other taxes, assuming that the higher disposable incomes lead to increased consumption.
As ludicrous and unsustainable these proposals seemed at the time, these were the proposals Malawians yearning for change were hoping would improve their living conditions. People went to the ballot to enforce that change.
However, a month after the polls closed, and APM was declared a winner, albeit with a very weak mandate and amid a highly contested election, the mood has shifted drastically from economic prosperity to political sentiment.
The three front-runners in the election are locked in a battle in the courts. To make things worse, this protracted struggle for power as extended beyond the courts and spilled over into our streets. Even Parliament itself has not been spared by the desperate tussle for power.
This is an insurmountable betrayal of the public’s trust.
Without downplaying the opposition and civil society organisations (CSOs) push for political accountability and legitimacy, these players would do well to remember that there are still young people out of jobs and the running battles in the streets are putting businesses at a stand-still. These are the issues these parliamentarians were elected to address and they are ignoring them to further their political ambitions.
When over 60 percent of Malawians voted against a regime, they did not just want a change in leadership. They wanted a change in the way of governing. It is high time our politicians sobered up and return to their task of governing and let the courts resolve the electoral disputes.
They should not betray the need for change to further their political ambitions.