The 2014-15 budget has been set at K743 billion from K648 billion in the previous year. It represents a 14.7 percent rise. If you factor in the K13 billion lost in Cashgate the previous budget becomes K635 billion. If you believe Fahad Assani, former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) a third of public funds are stolen or go down the drain. Now, let us crunch these numbers. It could mean K216 billion was wasted in the previous fiscal year. It could also mean that out the K743 billion, some cool K247 billion will go to waste. The waste can mean theft or abuse of public resources by those entrusted with managing the purse at various layers or levels of government. This now makes a billion or any multiple, just any number. There is no reason to feel excited about it. Can you see why?
The current level of inflation is around 22.3 percent at national level. Urban inflation is much higher at almost 30 percent. Now when you look at the K743 billion in terms of inflation, the 2014-15 budget is actually lower by around seven percent. Put it simply, the Malawi Government, is going to spend seven percent less than the previous year in real terms. We should be very worried as a nation that is reeling the after effects of near economic collapse.
Spending seven percent than the previous year has many serious implications on what sectors of the economy that are likely to suffer. Let us get the political promises into the equation as well. A promise that Nsanje Port will open on day one of APM re-election for instance. It doesn’t really matter whether it really happened. The Mombera University whose construction is set to begin next year as per the president’s recent speech in Mzuzu. Then we have the cement and iron sheets subsidy. And we have the perennial fertiliser subsidy. All these will be scrambling for a budget that is seven percent lower than the previous one.
Getting back to 2013-14, there are some reflections worth noting. Doctors and nurses from Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) demonstrated and petitioned Parliament on the appaling state of the facility. Then we had the issue of dead bodies at the morgue rotting due to dysfunctional cooling systems. Then there was a matter of dialysis machines at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital with patients being sent to KCH where the poorly paid nurses and doctors are personally bankrolling some operations of the hospital. The matter of elective surgeries suspension at KCH due to lack of basic anaesthetic chemicals is still unresolved. Well, these might have been some of the accomplishments of the previous budget.
Malawi at 50, has been a journey of different bumps and the healthy system is has over the years being going down the gutter. A minority has private health insurance otherwise the public hospitals where the poorest seek care are places that ensure one dies with stupid honour. As Parliament debates the 2014-15 budget, health just like education are the foundations of prosperity of the nation. If we can reduce the number of preventative deaths, not only do we prolong the productive lives of Malawians, but also reduce the number of man-women days spent in funerals. Otherwise who will be sleeping in these houses that the cement and iron sheet subsidy seeks to build?
As our MPs, debate the budget, let them think that K743 billion is not enough and more resources are needed to achieve the aspirations of Malawians, not just a few which easily get cheap loans increased after boardroom negotiations. The budget process has over the years involved consultations and I believe this need not be a routine exercise, but an undertaking that reflects aspirations and priorities of Malawians.
Threats to public finance remain. That a third of public finances go to the gutter through wastage, abuse and theft is not only embarrassing but it defines our thinking as a nation. We have an opportunity, now or never, that sends a strong message to individuals at the centre of abuse of public funds that things ought to change. This is the essence of business unusual. Get them successfully prosecuted, jailed and illegally obtained wealth returned to the Malawian taxpayer. Otherwise, a billion is just any number, and its size doesn’t matter if wastage and wrong priorities take precedence. Don’t get excited.