Hon Folks, with Malawi Growth and Development Startegy (MGDS III) just launched on Tuesday, I can’t help but muse on the efficacy of such strategies—which obviously are an outcome of a very taxing thought process—on wealth generation and poverty reduction.
First thing first; I’m aware that MGDS III, just like the two previous strategies—MGDS I and MGDS II—is medium-term in scope, designed to address in part, not in full, the national development agenda, in case someone is tempted to mouth me Irving Copi.
Still, a strategy priced at K8.6 trillion ought to have a scorecard, right? More so now when there’s the National Planning Commission to implement and account for it.
For the previous two strategies, a political measuring tool was used not as much for its accuracy or objectivity as it was for its sheer expediency.
Cronies of the incumbent President would simply declare at a rally that what the President promised during campaign, he has delivered. On their part, folks in the opposition would also go to the electorate and declare the incumbent a miserable flop. At the next election, they would say, vote for our presidential candidate for you to see development in your area.
Back to MGDS III; as a development blue print requiring K8.6 trillion in five years, the question is: where will the funding come from?
We all know the pittance from domestic revenue that government allocates to development. We also know that our already heavily indebted economy doesn’t attract much foreign direct investment.
We also know, I hope, that earnings from tobacco, the mainstay of the economy, have dwindled from $410 million in 2010 to $212 million in 2017 amid growing global anti-smoking campaign which, we can only prudently assume, will eventually push the industry off the cliff.
If we must continue as an agriculture based economy, our trade options hinge on crop diversification, an agenda touted from back in the days of Kamuzu but which still hasn’t taken off yet.
Can we bank on borrowing to finance our developmental agenda for the next five years?
If borrowing was an answer, probably MGDS II (2011-16) would have been a success, at least as successful as MGDS I which was relatively better funded and had milestones such as food security and steady economic growth to show for it.
But MGDS II was a miserable flop. By the time it came to an end, the food security dream had turned out to be a nightmare with more than 6 million people declared food insecure despite Fisp (fertiliser subsidy) which costs the taxpayer K50 billion or more annually.
Moreover, despite the woes that come with climatic change—erratic rainfall pattern resulting in drought or floods–ours agriculture remains more than 95 percent rain-fed, just as it was with our forefathers in the Iron Age, the irrigation agenda thwarted by lack of funding and technical knowledge.
On energy, MGDS II was also a disaster of tragic proportions. At its inception there was acute shortage of fuel and its end was characterised by extended electricity blackouts, culminating in the unprecedented 25-hour load-shedding schedules of 2018!
On the mining side, the difference was seen when Paradin invested in the Kayelekera Uranium Mine in Karonga. That contributed 10 percent to gross domestic product (GDP)! But when Kayelekera suspended operations in 2014 following the plummeting of uranium prices on the global market, earnings from the sector dose dived and it’s clear that unless some investor injects capital and technology into mining, we’ll have our precious stones buried right where they have been all these years—deep in the soil.
MGDS II also earmarked tourism as a major forex earner. There was no mistake there. Lake Malawi has what it take to lure tourists from anywhere under the sun. But it is under-developed. If you want to fully appreciate what enabled Livingstone in Zambia get a fair share of the cake that used to almost wholly belong to municipality of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
There ought to be heavy investment in the tourism sector before we can bank on it to bring tangible results to the public kitty.
Will MGDS III be a flop? We need help. It’s a necessary push for an economy where people can’t even feed themselves. We also need to do things differently—invest in productive areas, eliminate wasteful spending and declare total war on corruption.