Three years? Bingu must be joking

FEBRUARY 3, 2012

By the time you read this, Finance Minister Ken Lipenga will have delivered a mid-term review of the punitive zero deficit budget to Parliament.

I hope his review will give Malawians cause for optimism and give us some indication that the long-suffering citizens of this country could be getting some respite soon. If he could bring even the faintest smiles back to our lips, then Honourable Lipenga would have succeeded in doing something his boss, President Bingu wa Mutharika, has failed to do for a long time.

Things have been going from bad to worse for several months now, but because of the plague of self-denial the President is suffering from, he does not see what the rest of us see is wrong with the zero-deficit budget. A budget which, for the first time in the history of Malawi, sought to run the country with taxes on salt, offals and sawdust.

It took a public outcry for the taxes to be lifted, but listening to the DPP handclappers in the House debating the President’s speech, you’d think the budget in question is a good example of economic engineering

No one denies that economic problems are sometimes inevitable and that there comes a time when patriots have to tighten their belts for the common good. But this is not one of those times and what we are being forced to go through has nothing to do with patriotism. We are suffering because Bingu refuses to take responsibility for an economy his policies have pushed into free fall. And that is why he does not seem inclined to doing something about it with the urgency it deserves.

Sometimes when I listen to his pronouncements, I cannot help ask myself whether he lives in this country. Or perhaps because he does not pay the punitive taxes we are paying to fund his zero-deficit budget, he does not appreciate what we go through?

Addressing Parliament last Friday, Mutharika had the audacity of telling us that the zero deficit budget is neither accidental nor dangerous but that it is a good thing for Malawi.

He then told the IMF to go to hell and take their devaluation blueprint with them. That, he said, would not solve the country’s economic problems. What would, he argued, are his own home-grown policies. And then he dropped the bombshell, stunning all of us with the request that he be given a grace period of three more years to allow his policies to bear fruit. The IMF could only come back—if his policies failed!

I couldn’t believe my ears. Bingu really thinks that Malawians will sit with their hands in the laps and wait three more years while he tries out his pathetic experiments with the economy, causing for us further suffering!

To convince us that he knew what he was doing, he rattled figures showing how domestic revenue has grown to K120.1 billion against a midyear target of K115.6 billion this fiscal year . He said recurrent expenditure has amounted to K120 billion against midyear target of K127.3 billion this year. Bingu added that grants and loans have contracted from 60 percent in 2004/05 to 20 percent in 2011/12 and that Malawi’s domestic revenue has grown from K65 billion in 2005/06 to K242.5 billion.

On paper, a most impressive accomplishment, but the English say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. When I look in my plate, I don’t see any pudding, just crumbs of what could have been. And that does not satisfy me.

The simple question I have for my President is: Where is this money and what is it doing amidst deep-rooted misery and sorrow? Where are the social services he was waxing lyrical about? Gone to the dogs, if you ask me.

Dear Mr President, visit any health centre or district hospital in the country and see how empty the dispensaries are and how people are dying from curable diseases because there are no medicines.

At the moment, it is donors—yes, the very same donors he accused of funding NGOs to topple government— who ferried in a consignment of drugs in a Boeing 767. But what can one Boeing-full do to a population of over 10 million? Most health centres have already run out of drugs.

This is just Ministry of Health. The story is the same in schools and offices serving citizens. Funding has been mercilessly chopped because of the zero deficit budget, leaving most departments on the verge of collapse.

Does the President not see these things? Is he going to sacrifice the lives of Malawians just for the pleasure of talking tough about our country’s financial independence from donors?

In any case, what is the problem? Isn’t the problem the fact that the President is failing to mend fences with donors due to his pride and arrogance which in the end do not help poor citizens? Should Malawians be guinea pigs for Mutharika’s economic experiments that only end up bringing more misery?

But, dear Malawians, let the President not fool us. The problem in this country are not donors or outside forces trying to topple the Mutharika regime. We know who the problem is.

Donors and bodies such as IMF have always been part of the solution in this country. We should ask ourselves, why is the President talking tough against donors?

The reason is simple. Mutharika and his DPP government want to rule without rules. The regime wants to have a blank cheque to do as they like.

This is also the reason the President is at civil society’s throat, trying to use his majority in Parliament to pass yet another draconian law to stifle their operations. It is only dictatorship that sees laws not as a way to improve the quality of life for its own people but as way of crushing dissent.

The road Mutharika wants to walk is one that has been well trodden by one Robert Mugabe. But that should come as no surprise because Comrade Mugabe is a role model for our own President.

But Malawi belongs to us all and not only the President and his Cabinet. The sooner the President realises this the better for every Malawian. The President’s speech on Friday did not inspire any confidence. It was a joke that was not funny.

I repeat. Malawians are not guinea pigs. We refuse to be part of Mutharika’s dubious experiment—one he hopes will go beyond his term which ends in 2014.

 

Who has the answers, then

If we needed any evidence that President Bingu wa Mutharika is off the pedal in the fight against endemic corruption, then he gave it to us on a silver platter on Sunday. He said he does not know whether the fight against it is being won or not.

Coming from the President, this, once again, does not inspire confidence. It simply shows fighting corruption is no longer a priority to the President yet he made this one of his centre-piece policies when he was first sworn in at Kamuzu Stadium in 2004.

But I will volunteer to give him the answer. Mr President, this fight is not being won. If you want evidence, check with the ACB director to give you a report. If this is not enough, check with the media which is awash with stories of rampant corruption in your administration.

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