For the past financial years it has been Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe’s plea that Malawians should not spend beyond their means.
Once again, this year the minister pleaded with those sections who make demand on his budget and end up straining it not to spend lavishly or focus on gathering personal wealth at the expense of the fragile economy.
But in this fiscal year, the minister is again dealing with obscene but always justified requests for increased salaries for civil servants.
If it is not civil servants then its commissioners of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) wanting new vehicles, judges demanding upward reviews of their perks or Judiciary support staff wanting their housing allowances implemented.
This year must have been a strain on the wellbeing of the minister, with his aged feet being held to the fire on teachers leave grants, Chancellor College lecturers demanding new salaries and as usual civil servants refusing the minimum 10 percent wage increase that he proposed.
The hunched structure of Goodall as he walks into Parliament to defend his budget tells the story of an exhausted man—a man who really cannot deal with anymore of such demands.
It is not fair that at a time when the man has admitted that the $80 million kitty he received from the World Bank to do with as he pleased will be used to pay arrears to the private sector and lessen the pressure of paying interests on domestic debt, he should be laden with more demands for more money.
It is doing injustice to the hardwork of his people in the ministry to maintain the wage bill at a certain level only to be met with threats of a civil service strike, a teachers’ strike and a six month closure of Chancellor College.
It is ludicrous for Members of Parliament who should know better to ask the minister to contribute 30 percent as pension contribution for the reasons that when they leave office, MPs become paupers.
The MPs forgot that it is not the low pension contribution that causes them to become beggars when they lose their seats but the hand to mouth attitude and lack of saving culture. When in office, MPs are notorious for spending lavishly, buying expensive cars and obtaining loans they fail to repay.
But at the end of the day, money is never enough to anyone: not for teachers, not for ordinary civil servants and it seems not for members of Parliament (MPs) who enjoy the benefit of numerous allowances each time they come to Lilongwe.
As the list of demands for more money piles up on Goodall’s table, the list of demands of ordinary citizens grows—for more hospitals, school blocks, medicines and good roads and bridges that don’t wash away during rainy season.
While money will never be enough, those demanding more and more, should be considerate enough to give Goodall and the budget a break.
Giving the budget a break, however, should not translate to rampant stealing of the same funds that are not enough for everyone.
But the Finance Minister must know that the more he ignores these demands, the more drugs will be stolen from hospitals and even more than K80 million will be stolen from the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and District Development Fund (DDF).
As each economic hardship after another hits this nation, it is time everyone, whether an MP or a lecturer at Chancellor College, strive to give the budget some breathing room. Times are hard, everyone is suffering in one way or another but we cannot all get what we want.n