‘Malawi has best policies, problem is implementation’

Economist Thomas Chataghalala Munthali has been appointed as director general of the National Planning Commission (NPC) with effect from mid-March. Before his appointment, Munthali was director of Knowledge and Learning at the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), a specialised agency of the African Union (AU) on capacity development based in Harare, Zimbabwe, where he coordinated capacity development efforts across the AU member countries. In this interview with our chief business analyst DUMBANI MZALE, he shares his vision for the commission:

Munthali: NPC wants to stand above politics

Q

: First congratulations on your appointment. Briefly tell us, what is the NPC all about?

A

: The National Planning Commission (NPC) is an independent think tank established through an Act of Parliament (NCP Act, 2017).  Its background links to the need for continuity of development projects regardless of whichever political party comes in office. Its main mandate is to formulate the medium-and long-term development plans of the country and oversee their implementation.

Q

: As the new DG for NPC, what are the key priority development initiatives that the country should focus on and why?

A

: First, there is need to take stock of the various development initiatives already being done. There is also research done by sons and daughters of Malawi and beyond on harnessing Malawi’s comparative advantages—basically those areas that have the highest returns on investment and huge multiplier effects on the other sectors.

That said, Malawi is endowed with fertile land and natural resources that are yet to be fully harnessed. The majority of the Malawi population is engaged in agriculture and extractive sectors. This is where we have the most comparative advantage. We would need to focus on value addition and agrarian-based industrialisation for take-off.

Q

: What is the long-term vision of NPC?

A

: Simply put, the long term vision of the NPC is a Malawi prospering socio-economically from integrated and inclusive development plans based on our resource potential and comparative advantage. We hence plan to champion the development of a long-term vision that will guide the country towards sustainable prosperity.

Q

: How is MGDS III linked to NPC’s mandate in building a better Malawi?

A

: One of the core mandate of the NPC is to develop medium-term development plans that operationalise the long term vision of the country and coordinate their implementation. Currently, MDGS III is that medium term plan. As a commission, we do not have the mandate to implement but have an interest in ensuring that whatever plans have been developed don’t just gather dust on the shelves but get implemented. That is why we would annually be reviewing the progress on the MGDSIII implementation and draw lesson on what is working and not including the capacity challenges that need to be addressed. Our main interest is in tracking impact of the interventions especially the flagship projects in MDGS III. This it to ensure that the plans that are being implemented translate into better lives for all Malawians.

Q

: The commission was set up in 2017, what has been achieved to date?

A

: Let me first be clear to the public that the Commission has been operating without a Director General for the past couple of years. But in total display of commitment to ensuring inclusive and sustainable development plans, government provided an interim secretariat which enabled the commission to operate this far. It’s only now that the commission is employing its own staff.

Despite that, there have been commendable strides made with support of the interim secretariat. In line with its mandate, this has included launch of the MGDS III and its wide dissemination. Efforts have also been made to build partnerships and alliances with various development partners as part of leveraging development programme resources.

Q

: Political parties have already drafted their manifestos outlining their vision for the country.  How will you ensure that the manifestos speak to national development frameworks and agenda? 

A

: In MGDS III, the definition of priority areas is so wide. In this regard, it’s unlikely that political parties will be far off the MGDS priorities in their manifestos. However, as the NPC, we would help the governing party to focus on those priorities that have the most impact on poverty and inequality reduction. These would be based on sound evidence around highest multiplier effects on the other sectors and general population.

Q

: What do you see as the main challenge to Malawi’s development?

A

: Four things: first is the lack of coordinated planning. Sectors and various stakeholders are often doing an incredible job but they hardly link to what others are doing next door. This has risk of duplicating efforts and inefficient use of resources. The Planning Commission hence becomes important in tracking the various socio-economic development interventions that are taking place across the country at national and local levels. 

Second, Malawi is not short of plans, strategies and policies but the implementation has been a challenge. Part of the problem has been capacity challenges with implementation. It’s good then that the Act gives the NPC the mandate to also oversee/monitor implementation of the country’s medium and long-term development strategies.

Third, as a country, which not just unique to Malawi but most African countries, we tend to look outside for solutions than local. Both with regard to expertise and resource mobilisation. You will be shocked at how much Malawian professionals are sought for outside Malawi for expertise in various development planning processes, yet they remain underutilised back home. Similarly, our country is richly endowed and if we spent our energy on promoting value addition, we should not be relying on donors for our budgetary and balance of payment support.

Lastly, is the mindset challenge. If one believes they cannot do it, they won’t achieve anything. As Malawians we need to throw out cynicism and believe that we can be what we want.

Q

: Lastly, what are your plans to sustain the NPC and make it an effective machinery for stimulating growth? 

A

: The multi-stakeholder approach is very key. The idea is to have a Malawi-driven Planning Commission but tapping on international best practices in development planning and execution depending on context. Well researched evidence will be the insulator of all the plans that will be put forward to government for implementation.

We want to stand above politics and ensure that there is continuity of projects and plans by standing on solid evidence. Our annual reporting to the President and Parliament provides an important window for ensuring accountability of those responsible for implementing the agreed development plans.

My last word being that this country needs patriotic citizens that are ready to sacrifice for the good of the future generations. Be part of that legacy, otherwise posterity will be there to judge you. n

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