Of the year gone by and hope in 2018

Having come to and end of 2017 and entered 2018, let’s reflect and take stock.

First is the good news that the Peter Mutharika administration has made a lot of progress in stabilising the economy.

The local currency, the kwacha, remained relatively stable throughout 2017. Headline inflation is in single digits and falling. Interest rates are on their way down to record levels and we have a strong import buffer, one of the largest in years.

So, I guess my former boss—Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe—deserves a pat on the back—and respect.

I insist that Gondwe may be old physically, but his brain remains one of the sharpest I have ever encountered.

Sure, a younger man may replace him, but it would take too much time before investors and the international community can develop any respect for such a person. In this job, gravitas is very important.

At this point we need more stability than uncertainty, especially when even the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) is relatively new in his job and Gondwe has tonnes of it.

On the fiscal front, public finance and economic management (PFEM) remains murky with procurement, budget management, accounting and revenue collection grossly underperforming.

So, we are far from getting out of the woods, but some progress is noticeable along the PFEM chain.

But even as we have seen some green shoots in the economy during the year, the power crisis caused by reduced output from an installed capacity of around 350 megawatts to production of less than 200 megawatts—most likely reversed most of the gains that should have been chalked up from the stabilising macroeconomic environment.

Insufficient power could, therefore, be the country’s biggest economic and social threat.

During the year, there is no doubt that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) big ticket agenda—public service reforms—faced serious setbacks as the lack of strategic direction confused ministries, departments and agencies.

Let’s wait and see how this item will pan out next year.

But out of the reform areas, probably the one with the biggest political fallout involved the electoral reforms that would have radically transformed how we manage elections before and after the polls.

The bills that the Mutharika administration reluctantly tabled in Parliament faltered in the House—with government-backing members of Parliament (MPs) overwhelmingly rejecting the bills.

Some ‘opposition’ parliamentarians also joined government in driving death nails into the electoral bills.

In the end, it was the Public Affairs Committee (PAC)—the naive quasi-religious governance lobby group—that found itself wiping eggs from its shocked face after the DPP administration hoodwinked it into dropping plans for peaceful demonstrations to push for enactment of the electoral reforms.

And, as usual, our fledgling democracy was the biggest loser in this highly mishandled process.

There were also worse things in 2017, disgusting, heinous acts of violence that saw rabid groups of Malawians in districts such as Blantyre, Mulanje, Thyolo and Nsanje beating people to death accusing them of being blood suckers.

At least nine people died from these acts of madness. The government was too slow in acting and by the time it did—arresting and prosecuting perpetrators, increasing police visibility and putting the army on the streets to restore law and order—it was too late for those who lost lives. History will judge the vampire myth as one of the lowest points for our country.

These are just examples of the key highlights of 2017, but we should not dwell much in the past I guess. We must look with hope to 2018.

I must also thank you for reading this column and your feedback has helped improve how I deliver my views and perspective to you.

Once again have a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

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