Aid freeze just as bad as looting

Honourable Folks,

while public discourse is centred on the arrests of people in connection with the shooting of budget director Paul Mphwiyo or Capital Hill looting, what will hit us hard on the nose is the aftermath of donor aid freeze.

The 2013/14 national budget, which provides for pay hikes in government and a generous allocation of K60.1 billion for the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) without increasing income taxes banked much on donor aid which, for this election year, was somehow inexplicably hiked from the usual 30 to 40 percent of the budget.

Trust me, all along donors were openly ruling out aid increase, saying they would stick to their standing agreements with government in terms of how much to give us, for what expenditure lines and under what disbursement arrangement. Much as they acknowledged our need for increased aid, especially after the massive 49 percent devaluation and floatation of the currency in April last year, they argued our economic woes had been self-inflicted and fixing the mess was our responsibility, not theirs.

Of course, much as we were ready to bite the lower lip and pay the price for the mediocrity that characterised Bingu wa Mutharika’s short second term, it was becoming apparent that people’s patience was wearing thin as the cost of living kept on rising while the promised light at the end of the tunnel could hardly be seen.

Had donors stuck to their 30 percent contribution, necessitating a tax increase in this year’s budget when the so-called reforms and the ever-rising cost of living had already pushed many better-offs back into abject poverty, that would’ve significantly raised the stakes for JB, the darling of the international community, in next year’s elections.

I,therefore, see the hike in donor aid in this year’s budget as a deliberate ploy by the donors to raise the barrier of entry in the hall of fame for the opposition, especially the unrepentant DPP of zero-deficit budget fame, which still argues that the reforms, whatever their merit, are being implemented at the expense of the majority poor. The donors voted for JB with their aid!

The problem was that their position was informed largely by their narrow interest to ensure reforms don’t get derailed. As a politician who had honed, scooped and polished her art of dealing with donors during the Muluzi and Mutharika administration, JB does what her predecessors had done before her, listening to the donors and arrogantly ignoring the wishes of her own people.

She created an incompetent larger-than-the-economy government which excelled in exacting from us the price of the reforms without meeting its part of the bargain—prudent spending of taxpayers money and sealing the gaping hole at the bottom of the government purse through which 30 percent of public revenue was being wasted to corruption, fraud and incompetence.

Nothing was done about that and any criticism of how government was managing its revenue was at best contemptuously ignored or, at worst, trashed by a legion of State House spin-doctors hired at the expense of taxpayer to defend the indefensible. Donors either commented on these issues in hashed tones or buried their heads in the sand.

The President may not have directly been involved in the looting at the Capital Hill, but her policies created an atmosphere that allowed for corruption to flourish. Her penchant for globe-trotting—well defended by donors—also allowed for government to be somewhat on auto-pilot most of the time.

Now it’s time both government and the donors stopped being hypocritical. It’s us, the people of Malawi, who’re the real victims of the looting in government. We’re dying needlessly in grossly under-stocked public hospitals. It’s our children who are on the receiving end of half-baked education in public schools.

It’s our security which has gone to the dogs as police operations get underfunded by the same government which has been looking the other side as the corrupt looted its coffers with absolute abandon.

By withdrawing aid, donors sound as if they were punishing government for the looting at the Capital Hill. This isn’t true. When donors withdrew aid from the previous Mutharika administration, the economy was so badly affected yet that did not stop Mutharika from reportedly amassing K61 billion assets for himself.

The worst that can happen to people in government is losing elections, but aid freeze does not stop them from getting richer and richer even as the country gets poorer and poorer. It will simply justify government’s resolve to tax us more while providing poorer and poorer goods and services.

It’s the same victims of the looting at the Capital Hill who’ll bear 100 percent the pangs of aid withdrawal. Donors take that and live with it in your conscience.

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