Malawi, according to fundamental principles guiding the current waves of public sector reforms, is at a crossroads. As such, it needs to transform and become a better country.
To choose a way, explains the reform document released in December last year, Malawians are being called to action to create a middle-income country as defined in government’s Vision 2020.
Currently stuck in extreme poverty, the Public Service Reform Commission (PSRM) believes Malawi could become a middle-income nation if it goes back to the development plan outlined in the Vision 2020.
Although there is only five years to go before 2020, the Commission recommends that President Peter Mutharika relaunch the Vision 2020 to have the whole nation rally behind it.
Not only that.
The Commission also calls on the President to champion the Vision 2020 agenda and appoint a team to monitor progress and report on quarterly basis. Specifically, the Commission adds that the 2015/2016 budgeting process and subsequent planning processes should fund such plans as influenced by the Vision 2020.
But what is the Vision 2020?
According to a foreword in the Vision 2020 document signed by the then leader, President Bakili Muluzi, Vision 2020 is a long-term development vision of Malawi prepared to serve as a base for short and medium-term plans that will lead to the Vision that Malawians see for the year 2020.
The Vision 2020, which defines national goals, policies and strategies, will improve development management, reads the statement.
It adds that the Vision 2020 exercise provides government with a wealth of information on what Malawians would like to achieve.
Launched in 2000, for the past 16 years, Vision 2020 has been implemented using medium-term strategies such as the Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy (MPRS), Malawi Growth and Development Strategy I (MGDS) and currently the MGDS II.
However, the Commission notes that in the early years of the Vision 2020, there was a lot of enthusiasm among all stakeholders in ensuring that the country moves toward the realisation of the Vision.
But that enthusiasm, notes the Commission, was short-lived.
Therefore, driven by the need to have a long-term national development plan that should inform short and medium-term development planning, the Commission, today, is arguing for the relaunch of Vision 2020.
But is relaunching Vision 2020 worth it?
With the 2014 UNDP Human Development Report showing Malawi stuck at the peripheral, and again, with an Oxford University Index study showing that Malawi, at the rate it is moving, needs 74 years to develop, some experts argue that Malawi needs a long-term development plan that should be accepted and understood by Malawians.
“Development is not a five-year term issue. It is a long-term fundamental structural transformation project that demands continuity and adherence,” says Ben Mhango, a Chancellor College economics graduate.
Fundamentals overriding the US’s development were set 100 years ago. Everybody who steps into the White House is pretty sure that they will have to adhere to such fundamentals, say free market principle, for instance.
In Malawi, unfortunately, the pendulum continues to swing. Someone comes to control the kwacha; the other comes to float it.
“Every five years,” reasons Mhango, “we shift strategy. We are always starting over and over again.”
However, on the relaunching of the Vision 2020, development specialist associate professor Blessings Chinsinga from University of Malawi’s Chancellor College is quite surprised by the recommendation.
“I think what should have been recommended could have been the review of Vision 2020. The assumptions that informed the development of Vision 2020, then, have dramatically changed and I am surprised if relaunching it is of any importance,” he says.
Chinsinga, in his assessment of Vision 2020, argues that the challenge in Malawi is that “we develop excellent vision and development plans that, beyond the pomp of launch, are not taken seriously”.
“We do not use them, but just refer to them in development planning. For instance, most of the benchmarks that Vision 2020 spelled to achieve have not, even dismally, proved successful,” he says, adding: “The Vision 2020, till date, still stops at the level of abstraction.”
So what should be done?
“In the first place, we need to accept that over the years we have created layers and layers of reforms, which are always launched with pomp, without reaching their logical conclusion,” he says.
After acceptance, he adds, Malawians, especially those in government, need to understand reforms by looking at them in their totality. Reforms, he notes, should not be seen in piecemeal. They should be accompanied by a fundamental vision with well laid-out pillars of national development, explains Chinsinga.
He adds that there is need to emphatically look into the question of implementation of these reforms.
“I keep arguing that if development plans we have been launching were implemented, perhaps, just with a meagre level of 25 percent, Malawi, by today, could have been quite close to middle-income economy,” he says.
That said, he recommends, Malawi needs to have a full-time implementation agency that will spearhead, monitor and evaluate the implementation of our development plans and reforms.