Did I hear the Sona at UNGA?

Hon Folks, does APM—he of “we’re managing just fine with our own resources” fame—know that the 2018/19 National Budget is standing on quick sand?

Treasury says unless World Bank injects K60 billion into the 2017/18 National Budget, government will have to recast and trim approved expenditure lines.

Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe indicated that the recurrent budget will be reduced by K32 billion and development budget by K28 billion.

Although the minister has ring-fenced budgetary allocations for education, agriculture, health and security, we still have reason to fear that governance allocations such as ACB, MHRC and the Ombudsman, which were already poorly funded, may be targeted.

Or does anyone harbour the illusion that, with elections just eight months away, APM and his ministers can have their travel budget chopped?

Campaign splurges have already started pouring like rain. I heard on radio Farmers’ Union of Malawi (FUM) saying this year government has targeted three million as Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) beneficiaries, really?

We have also seen the removal of fees in public secondary schools, the 100 per cent hike in chiefs’ honoraria, the introduction of government sponsored post-graduate scholarships for civil servants, the introduction of government funded internships for the youth, the late hour presidential directive that Admarc should purchase nandolo (pigeon peas) at K230 per kilogramme.

It’s as if government is enjoying proceeds from gold and oil! Yet, should there be budget trimming this year, that will be the third consecutive dismantling of budget on APM’s watch, implying that the economy is south of where the government thinks it is.

The kwacha may have been stable for more than 24 months, inflation rate in single digit and foreign reserves at more than four months, but these positive macro- economic indicators are a means to an end and not an end by themselves.

Under Bakili Muluzi (first term) and Bingu wa Mutharika (first term) the economy performed much better than has been the case under APM but even then  there was low impact at the level where jobs are created, poverty reduced and people enjoying improved living standards.

The problem is that in multiparty Malawi, macro-economic stability is pursued at the expense of the people. For example, Bingu wa Mutharika reversed the fortunes of his first term by stubbornly interfering with the monetary policy, regulating the value of the kwacha and the sale for foreign currency.

On her part, Joyce Banda reversed the woes of Bingu’s accursed second term by devaluing the currency by 49 percent and floating it at the same time. Donors applauded but the combined effect of the two antithetical policies on the people was tragic—loss of jobs, loss of buying power and a roll back into poverty en masse.

While crooks in government and the private sector survived by intensifying corruption, honest hardworking and law-abiding Malawians watched in dismay as their wages shrank drastically in value and many companies haunted the Labour office with notifications for retrenchment, downsizing or outright closure.

APM has taken his so-called macro-economic achievements to the UN General Assembly where he sounded more like he was presenting a State of the Nation address (Sona) to Malawian MPs.

What he does not admit is that corruption is still rampant and eroding more than a third of the public revenue; that pricing of water, electricity and phones (utilities) is way beyond the reach of the majority of our people whose minimum wage is K25 000 a month; and that interest rates are still too high for small and medium sized businesses.

What he does not admit is that government’s combined domestic and foreign debts at K3 trillion, has already surpassed two whole national budgets yet, measured by effective use of money for results, there’s very little to show for it. Irrigation is still at its infancy, deadlines have never been met in construction and public procurement is riddled with graft.

The cost of graft, inefficiency and policies that fit Hollywood tycoons is borne by ordinary Malawians some of whom are beginning to lose hope in the system of government we opted for in the 1993 national referendum.

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