The mid-term performance of the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III) is like a student who has failed mid-term exams.
A rational parent cannot reward such a failure. Doing so would induce what economists term ‘moral hazard’, which is rewarding bad behaviour.
Launched on March 13 2018, the MGDS III keeps wobbling, with some lacklustre performance weighing heavily on its quest to spur economic growth and remove barriers to development in key sectors such as agriculture, water development and climate change management; education and skills development; energy, industry and tourism development; transport and information and communications technology infrastructure and health and population.
In fact, the blue-print’s struggle mirrors those of its preceding medium-term national development strategies, MGDS I and II, which also failed to attain the much-touted sustained and inclusive growth despite the country posting some commendable growth rates during the implementation periods.
Fast forward to August 6 2020 , Vice-President Saulos Chilima, who is also Minister of Economic Planning and Development and Public Sector Reforms, led a virtual launch of the mid-term review process of the five-year MGDS III in Lilongwe.
The review showed that the country has achieved only 31 percent of national development targets in the past two and half years of implementation.
The National Planning Commission (NPC), in collaboration with the Department of Economic Planning and Development, reviewed the progress of the strategy, which runs from 2017 to 2022.
The review report showed progress between the financial years 2017/18 and 2018/19, which is half-way the five-year lifespan of the strategy.
The MGDS III performance tool kit guided the review to ensure comparability of performance among the sectors, according to NPC director general Thomas Munthali.
He said it required the sectors to report on some key areas, namely annual budget performance for the period under review, sector results performance, development project performance and aid effectiveness, challenges faced in the course of implementing their activities and proposed recommendations for improvement by the sector.
A peep into sectoral performance
The review of MGDS III has exposed both strengths and weaknesses that the government has address if the country is to overturn such a decimal performance let alone making strides in other national development documents such as the National Transformation 2063.
The agriculture sector contributes about 28 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) and about 70 percent of national export earnings while also employing 64 percent of the country’s workforce.
The review shows that the sector is riddled with low adoption of improved agricultural technologies which has gone down to 22 percent from 48 percent during the period under review. Maize yield has declined to two tonnes from 2.2 tonnes per hectare (ha).
The review shows that there is a 28 percent increase in hectarage under legumes from 1.1 million to 1.35 million ha against the target of 1.16 million ha while the percentage of households with potable water within 500 metres has increased to 87 percent, up from 26 percent, against target of 60 percent.
There was a mixed performance in the education sector during the period under review. While the country has seen an expansion in the education system characterised by a steady increase at primary school level, such an increase has not matched secondary schools due to inadequate infrastructure, teaching and learning materials.
The transition rate to secondary school for girls went down from 36.4 percent to 33 percent against a target of 38 percent. Similarly, transition rate for boys went down from 33.5 percent to 31.8 percent against a target of 36.4 percent.
The sector also saw low enrolment of female teachers against male teachers in public teacher training colleges.
Not all is not lost as the sector still registered some tangible achievements, including an increase in Gender Parity Index for primary school to 1.02 against a target of 1.01, improved survival rate to Standard Eight, especially for girls to 37 percent from 29 percent against a target of 32 percent as well as an increase in special needs students in secondary school to 1.4 percent from 1.2 percent against a target of 1.3 percent.
Other strategic sectors of energy, mining, industry and tourism also seem to be grappling to meet the stipulated desired set goals and targets.
The country’s supply of energy at about 351 megawatts (MW) remains inadequate to meet the current demand of over 1 000MW for both industrial and domestic use.
Contribution of mining to GDP, for instance, is pegged at 1.5 percent against a targeted three percent.
On a positive note, manufacturing sector now employs nine percent against a target of 3.9 percent, while contribution of tourism to country’s investment per year also increased from four percent to 4.7 percent, which is above a target of four percent.
On transport and ICT infrastructure, the review shows that development of road transport system is lagging behind while also bemoaning poor conditions of ports for water transportation. This is mainly blamed on poor infrastructure and equipment, inadequate and untimely disbursement of funds, delayed payments on ongoing projects and delayed conclusion of financing agreements on some major projects.
The review found that the national fibre backbone project was successfully completed, there was a reduction of cost of travel by rail from Blantyre to Nacala in Mozambique from $68 (about K51 000) per tonne to $58 (K43 500) per tonne while ICT development index also increased.
Health and population sectors suffered low stock levels of drugs and functional ambulances, crude birth rate at 32.8 percent against a target of 31.6 percent as well as low domestic financing for health at 6.2 percent against a target of 18 percent.
However, during the same period, country reduced maternal and infant mortality rate to 439 from 574 per 100 000 live births against target of 516. The country is also on course to achieve the 90:90:90 UN HIV targets which is now at 92:84:91.
Where did we go wrong?
It was discovered during the review that MGDS III has many flagship projects and some do not qualify being flagship projects. That is why, Chilima advised NPC to narrow down the projects to remain with only those that are “transformative in nature”.
MGDS III implementation has also demonstrated a myriad of failures in the conception, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, of the guiding document; hence, the need for all public, private, civil society organisations, development partners to double their efforts.
Weighing in, Milward Tobias, executive director for Centre for Research and Consultancy blames lack of seriousness and inadequate capacity to formulate a robust development plan.
He said MGDS III talks of Malawi doubling per capita income by 2022 from $380 (about K285 000) in 2017, but observes that three years later, the same indicator is almost stuck at $389 (about K291 000).
Tobias also said the same document also targets an average economic growth rate of 6.5 percent over a five-year period, but added that achieving such a feat would mean having per capita income of $760 (about K570 000) by 2022, which is a tall order.
He said: “Development plans fail to address key human resource challenges yet successful implementation of the plans depend on a motivated, accountable public service.
“The political economy of podium-driven policies or directives sometimes override technocratically driven development plans. This has been a persistent challenge.”
Not all is lost as Chilima said government is committed to change things and continue with national projects that are aimed at transforming the country.
The United Nations resident coordinator Maria Jose Torres is also upbeat, saying despite the implementation challenges, there was a positive indication of progress in the attainment of some Sustainable Development Goals.