We commend government for finally securing the long-sought-af ter Extended Credit Facility (ECF) from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Truth be told, it has been dodgy.
The funds—$174 million to be disbursed over four years— are expected to stabilise the country’s wobbling economy besides unlocking direct budget support development partners withdrew in 2013 following revelations of wanton plunder of public funds at Capital Hill.
We are only congratulating government because we think it has learned its lessons after voluntarily cancelling the ECF running programme with the IMF in 2020. That was a visionless and reckless political decision, which has inflicted gargantuan pain on Malawians. The decision has boomerang big time.
The Tonse administration ineptly thought it would score political mileage by walking out on the facility after it came to light that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration had sexed up figures to remain on the Bretton Woods’ programme. But nay! Through that cancellation of the facility in 2020, Capital Hill threw Malawians under the bus. The decision has been suicidal as it has only succeeded in hurting the people in the most unimaginable callous way.
Whatever assumptions the Tonse leadership had, they were ill-advised, to say the least. Well, if they thought merely blaming the wrongdoing on the previous a d m i n i s t r a t i o n w o u l d indemnify them from the wrath of IMF, they were wrong. Very wrong. The prized ECF funds would not walk back to Malawi just because the sin was committed by the previous administration. Tonse goofed in no small proportions. The facility disappeared, not for or two but for three years during which time Malawians bore the brunt of it all through foreign exchange shortages, fuel scarcity, devaluations and hyperinflation.
I repeat, the Tonse administration should not have ditched the ECF in the first place. The new government had nothing to lose by staying put—acknowledging the wrongdoing by its predecessor and just saying sorry, or doing nothing more. IMF would not have cancelled the ECF as this would have meant punishing the new administration and innocent Malawians for the sins committed by the previous administration.
Indeed, the previous regime had falsified figures to remain on the facility. That was very unethical. The burden placed on the new administration would simply have been to correct the wrongdoing.
When the Pharisees brought a woman whom they wanted stoned to death for adultery, Jesus told the lady ‘Go and sin no more’ (John 8—11). That is what IMF would have demanded of the new administration—not to walk the path of the previous administration. IMF would not have condemned Malawians to the gallows for the stupidity of an administration that had been long deposed.
B u t t h e T o n s e administration wanted to look holier and more saintly than its predecessors. That level of cluelessness is unimaginable. One can only hope it will never happen again.
So, the suffering that M a l aw i a n s a r e b e i n g subjected to today—kwacha devaluations, prices of commodities rising through the roof, et cetera—is self-induced at the altar of politics.
Which brings me to the economic rescue plan President Lazarus Chakwera unveiled on Wednesday; this is that it means only as much as he is committed to fulfilling it.
To start with, this is not the first time Chakwera has announced measures aimed at revamping the economy. In February last year, when delivering his State of the Nation Address at Parliament, the President announced measures to instill fiscal discipline in the public sector. Among others, he announced a review of the benefits of senior government officials, a reduction in procurement of motor vehicles, a ban or restriction on foreign travel and workshops outside Lilongwe. What happened to these measures?
His office—Office of the President and Cabinet—was tasked to police and oversee their enforcement. But there was no political will from the top to enforce them to the spirit of the letter. We can therefore say without fear of contradiction that the reforms for attaining fiscal discipline were therefore dead on their pronouncement.
The most impor tant austerity measure the President has announced this time round is cancellation of his foreign trips as well as those of Cabinet ministers and senior government officials up to March 31 2024. We want to assure the President here and now that minus political will, the new pronouncements will just be empty statements.