Honourable Folks, these days we have to deal with a sense of remorse—almost self-pity—daily for being part of the past 50 years of independence for which there’s very little, if any, to show for it. Will the next 50 years be different?
We can’t take no for an answer if our children are to inherit a better Malawi. Continuing with more of the same will only make true the extrapolation last year by some British scholars that we’ve no less than 65 years to get out of abject poverty.
The other day a reputable economist and CEO of a major company unpacked the gravity of our situation by saying if the economy can grow at the rate of five percent, we’ve no less than 15 years to reach a point where we can maintain the real value of our per capita income.
In essence, he was saying the wealth we generate now is too little to sustain our current living standards. We can only become poorer with time.
The immediate challenge for our democracy is, therefore, to generate more wealth and ensure the economy grows consistently at more than six percent. We did it during Bingu wa Mutharika’s first term so it’s doable with good leadership.
Unfortunately, the lack of such good leaders is the case of democratic Malawi. What we end up with are charlatans who measure their success by the infrastructural projects—roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and even markets—started or finished on their watch.
Yet, most of these projects are 80 percent donor-funded and are executed under prescribed conditionalities. With decentralisation, small projects at the grass roots will be initiated, implemented and monitored by local leaders—councillors, traditional leaders, MPs working together with government employees at the district, town, municipality or city council level.
Our leaders have also used “cash-transfer” to create dependency and fund it with money whose source hasn’t been clear at all. Bakili Muluzi dished out money and maize to people. Mutharika not only perpetuated the handout culture, but also put chiefs on “salary” and made villagers get a K14 000 bag of fertiliser at K500 in the name of subsidy.
Joyce Banda inherited all this and added the distribution of free goats, cows, motor bikes and houses. Where does the money from?
Yet, all these leaders grossly neglected corruption and inefficiency in the civil service. All along they looked the other way when corruption was at 30 percent. Now Cashgate has escalated it to more alarming proportions and all we see is finger-pointing between PP and DPP. Anything to do with the anti-graft effort is heaped on British forensic experts. The Anti-Corruption Bureau is left to limp on a shoe-string budget and a law that tames sacred cows.
Everything works in reverse. It’s no longer normal for public hospitals to have adequate stocks of essential drugs. Even cold-rooms at Kamuzu Central Hospital, a major referral hospital, could remain unrepaired for a lack of something like K2 million until bodies decomposed. We’ve lost our dignity!
In fact, now the situation is so bad that State House is probably the only sector whose budget line is adequately funded (if measured by the President’s daily campaign rallies throughout the country).
As citizens we have the power to change all this. First, we should demand of our post-May 20 President to reform the civil service and make it result-oriented, arrest corruption and ensure total accountability for public revenue.
Second, we can stop the culture of dishing out probably ill-gotten money (now we know even presidents can steal big time) to the poor by demanding that the government, not a president, should come up with programmes with measurable outputs on how to take the poor out of the poverty web.
Third, the private sector—the contributor of more than 50 percent of domestic revenue—should stop complaining and start demanding that government provide efficient and effective public support to the private sector, in exchange for the tax it pays.
Fourth, as citizens we all must demand improved social services. Any government which does not help the cause of wealth generation and investing in the future of our country doesn’t deserve a tambala of taxpayer’s money.
It’s time we used our right to demonstrate effectively to ensure change for the better. No one can be a worthy tenant of the State House if they have no idea how to bring the change we can all believe in. We owe it to our children.