Unresolved indigenous business issues

The country is in a middle of a serious political crisis. The election is being contested and there has been post-election violence.

While the issue is being resolved in court, business must go on. Taxes must be paid, businesses must thrive and more important, an enabling environment for doing business or investing needs to be created.

Post-election violence is not a business-friendly episode. Already, we have seen the Malawi International Trade Fair being rescheduled with exhibitors worried about security. Some foreign missions have also issued security alerts to their citizens about violence related to elections.

In the business world, perception matters, and the election violence is like adding salt to the fourth poorest nation tag. All these things do matter. So, what have we not yet resolved?

If we are going to look at Malawi as a country, we can categorise two groups of businesses. Those that call Malawi home and it is the only country they will call home. They will invest it and go nowhere, because it is home.

They will never externalise any foreign exchange, but will also struggle to get it to invest. Then we have investors that come in this country and when the going gets tough, will pack up and go. Remember the Kayelekera investor and their heavily guarded agreement.

Some are planning to mine graphite while others are exploring for oil. Maybe this is a diversion, but the context is clear. Such investments only work if there is serious partnership with the local investor.

Listening to politicians during campaign was interesting. Their messages ranged from falsehood, half-truths and some variants of truth. What they all agreed on though is that poverty is rampant and all believed that Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) should continue despite its failure to move out the same people out of poverty. What they never told the masses is who actually benefits from these subsidies.

While we find it difficult to deal with the notion or tag of being fourth poorest nation on the planet, a perspective is true. It is true that most of the poor in the country are Malawians. It is also true that to get out of the fourth poorest tag, poverty fight must target the majority. The majority that is poor.

Much as foreign capital is important to creating jobs, it is also true that any initiatives that empower locals are critical to reduce poverty. This also applies to how business policies should be crafted, implemented and monitored. It is critical that such policies are legislated and put in the Constitution.

The country’s Constitution guarantees the economic rights of Malawians and any government is supposed to promote such rights or create that policy environment that empowers indigenous Malawians. The level of poverty is increasingly becoming pathetic.

It is imperative that clear laws are put in place that restrict certain industries to Malawians only. The country is fast being overrun and if this is not kept in check, the future becomes so bleak. Similarly, it should now become law that foreign investors should partner with Malawians or they stay out.

We should not have international investors that come and mine our resources and pay a royalty and preach a vague veil of creating jobs in communities when in fact these jobs only pay a poverty wage.  Furthermore, such ventures come with another huge cost to the environment. Such policies could ensure that there is a 50:50 ownership in major investments with a clear law.

This will ensure that Malawi as a country benefits. If no local investor has the means, then attempts should be done to ensure that government takes the 50 percent stake.

Countries that have developed have usually taken such a path. Of course, the backlash will always come and often has a familiar tune. The tune often goes like. Property rights are being threatened or such policies will scare investors.

It is even further refined to sound that it is not the business of government to be an investor. The truth though remains simple. The rights of Malawians are supreme to any foreign monetary rewards that come at the expense of the majority that are still trapped in poverty. These are the people that our constitution seeks to protect. If fighting poverty means government should invest and run profitable business let it be. All countries in the world do the same.

Detractors often argue to the contrary for the sole reason of putting us in a continuous begging trap. 

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