In this interview, Paida Mpaso engages Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) national secretary Chris Chisoni to shed more light on recent criticisms the organisation made on government.
CCJP recently said President Joyce Banda should either resign or provide Malawians with sound economic policies befitting the economic hardships the country is currently facing. What was your basis for making such a bold statement?
Currently, as evidenced by our economic and political assessment, we realise that there are hardships that Malawians are facing due to [the recent 49 percent devaluation of the kwacha] as well as the financial greed of those in power.
Prices of goods have continuously gone up to the extent that Malawians are hardly surviving. The fluctuating oil prices are impacting negatively on the weak buying power of most Malawians.
Some careless expenditures are being incurred by government due to minimal levels of fiscal discipline and the austerity measures put in place by government seem to target and impact on the already disadvantaged while it is business as usual for those in government.
This in turn calls for a responsive government and leadership that must put in place economic and financial programmes that must anchor the poor from further slipping into abject poverty.
CCJP, therefore, calls for more commitment and responsibility from government than necessarily asking it to resign. Bandaâ€™s government must find solutions to this current economic situation with reference, yes, to the preceding economic context; but also with present diagnosis of the economic melt-down at the same time becoming forward looking.
When she assumed office, President Banda took some bold steps to implement things that were recommended by the donor community such as devaluing the kwacha. Did she have a choice?
We believe that in any decision-making process there are choices. If there is a choice, then citizens, who oftentimes face the brunt of international proposed economic policies, need to be informed and also consulted.
To every choice there are consequences. While the President may appear to have had no choice on devaluation, she had and still has the human face of poverty in Malawi that she could and can use to bargain for better measures. It is important to understand that economic and financial policies must be human-centred and they cannot operate in a society without political risks.
If only mathematical calculations become the sole premise for devaluation and other economic policies, those that face the consequences react and respond in all possible and available manners, sometimes to the detriment of those in leadership positions and also to the very same survival and tranquillity of a society.
The current government has the responsibility to support the survival mechanisms of Malawians by adopting policies and programmes that are in tandem with both global trends and local economic needs.
Therefore, the President made a choice and she must continue to make meaningful and relevant choices for Malawians, that is, if she has to maintain the confidence and [trust Malawians have in her].
What are some of the policies you want the President to implement to avert the suffering Malawians are currently going through?
There is need to enhance private sector production policies that increase exports than imports. There is need to put in place better and just international trade policies for Malawi to realise economic growth that can generate funds for social services.Â
There is need to put in place investment policies that anchor domestic businesses and manufacturing industries to reduce importing costs. Some policies for fiscal discipline are already there, but they need to be strengthened and seriously monitored for compliance by stakeholders.
Since government has just approved the social support policy, it is important that programmes that support the vulnerable and the poor are quickly put in place to avoid further slippage of the poor into a poverty abyss.
More importantly, a radical change of direction and perception needs to be developed in curbing our governmentâ€™s appetite for unnecessary expenditure and luxurious living as if all is okay.
Significantly, we expect that policies put in place narrow the gap between the poor and the rich that has been ever-widening in our recent history. This is because statistics are showing that most Malawians are facing hardships to live a day. Finally, though under neo-liberal economic policy framework, price control monitoring mechanisms must be put in place to limit the levels of exploitation from traders to the buyers.
Â As CCJP, how do you assess the Presidentâ€™s performance since she assumed office five months ago?
Our assessment takes into consideration the economic and political context she found herself in the leadership position. Some positives have occurred, but there is need to do more. We are not yet in paradise; hence, she cannot feed people propaganda.
How do you look at the future of the country, economically, politically?
If patriotism from those in leadership positions improves, if economic solutions are found in the intermediate and near future, if government shows commitment for equal sharing of economic challenges, the politics of this country will be sober and stable.