We have seen, in the past week or two, an invitation to those who are able, to express their interest in running mega farms. Should it not be the sole responsibility government engages in this important activity in order to extend the much needed assistance to its people?
Absolutely not! As pointed out a number of times before, governments are, the world over, very lousy commercial actors. They are too sluggish to pursue any commercial activity with the required efficiency. Having worked in the private and public sectors, this columnist knows that there is a yawning gulf between the two. Let private citizens, not government, create wealth by way of primary, secondary and tertiary production of all manner of goods.
Government has a heavy load of responsibilities on its shoulders to deliver certain services to its citizens. Saying that private citizens must create wealth does not and should not, exempt government from living up to its duty of extending a variety of services to the population. We need schools, roads, bridges, health services, agricultural extensions services, formulation and implementation of sound fiscal policies…. the list is endless. All these, and more, are the preserve of government. We will hold them to account for lapses in such services.
But to expect government to create and provide wealth to its citizens is going overboard. When I last checked, Malawi was a capitalist nation. We have always been. Agreed, what we have here is a hybrid type of capitalism, one in which some sections of the community are helped directly by government to access some of what they need. A good example is health services . Throughout this country, public health facilities do not charge anything for their services to the public. The facilities that are situated along our borders, in fact, get abused by foreigners who cross the border to access free medical services.
One of the issues that contributed to the standoff between Prime Minister, Kamuzu Banda, on the one hand, and his youthful ministers, on the other, in 1964, was that while the later insisted that people should pay a tickey (three pence) to be treated in public hospitals, the later vehemently opposed this proposal. In the end, the ministers’ view dominated and Malawi has since provided free medical services. Primary education is now free, as are a number of other social services. These are islands of socialism in a sea of capitalism.
But, as a nation, we still pedal capitalism through and through. Businesses are owned by individuals and not the State. If the State owned businesses, it would be expected to distribute the wealth created in those businesses equally to all its citizens. We would be getting our food, clothing, soap, cars and many other goods from the state.
I do not think Malawians would sustain such a system of government. Socialism has worked elsewhere, notably in Russia, China, Cuba and some Eastern European countries. The Malawian worker is a different species. We are known to be hardworking people but this is only so when we are working for ourselves or when those we are working for strictly regulate the manner in which the work is done. When the average Malawian worker finds a loophole that will allow him/her to stay away from work for some time or to get away with mediocrity, they quickly jump at such “opportunities” and utilise them to the full. I have stated elsewhere that the Malawian worker is the opposite of a football player. When a football player gets off the pitch because of an injury, he seeks immediate medical attention so that he will return to the pitch as quickly as possible. Injuries that would confine some us to our beds for days on end are treated in a matter of seconds and the player returns to pitch, usually. Not so at the Malawian workplace! If a worker can stay away for any reason, they will prolong their off time for as long as they can.
In Japan people are so committed to their work that many times they have to be reminded that they need to go on leave. Such workers can work for the state in a socialist economy and keep it going. It is doubtful if Malawian workers can do that.
Maybe someday we will decide to switch to a socialist economy. In the meantime, I suggest that we engage in private enterprise to keep our economy going. Government should not own or run any mega farms. It simply is not their business. Let them facilitate the process of individuals like you and me acquiring farms and the resources needed to run them