Was all that pomp for show?

“A further group of [26] projects must be implemented to a stage where each is visible,” this was Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe in his Mid-year Budget Review Statement.

I am confused.

What does implementing projects to a stage where they are visible mean? This is a questionable statement when one looks at the fact that President Peter Mutharika has been going about doing ground-breaking ceremonies and laying foundation stones signalling the start of development projects.

The statement also brings in doubt to the so-called projects sustainability, especially when costs and the sources of money are not outlined.

Does it mean that the launch of these projects was just for show as the battle for power in the 2019 general elections hots up?

Are these projects really aligned to the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) and the broader Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS)? Or do they just fit in the narrow context of winning popularity contests?

The other issue at play here is the criteria government used to prioritise projects on the back of a cut in development expenditure in the 2017/18 National Budget.

According to Gondwe, government has, from the development budget, picked 15 projects out of (85) that must be completed at the end of this financial year.

Apart from the 26 projects that “must be implemented to a stage where each is visible”, there is another group of 15 projects funded almost wholly by development partners that Gondwe said would also continue to be implemented during the second half of the financial year.

The remainder of 29 projects, according to Gondwe, will be pended until the next financial year.  And, to apparently ensure that the designated projects that will continue to be implemented during the second half of the fiscal year have adequate funding, some resources from the pended list of projects have been transferred to the prioritised projects. From what I have gathered, the priority 15 projects to be completed in 2017/18 financial year include Zomba-Jali-Kamwendo-Phalombe–Chitakale Road, Lumbadzi –Dowa–Chezi Road; Liwonde-Mangochi Road rehabilitation, rehabilitation of Chileka Airport Terminal Building; the Jenda-Embagweni-Edingeni Road; completion of of Domasi Community Hospital; Cancer Centre in Lilongwe; Community Technical Colleges; the Mzuzu-NkhataBay Road; Malawi Rural Electrification programme Phase Eight and construction of Administration Block at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar); other rural projects, construction of Lilongwe Old Airport-Kasiya-Santhe Road; rehabilitation of Kamuzu Stadium as well as procurement of desks and learning materials for schools.

And here is Gondwe’s kicker: “As part of the adjustment exercise, the balance of resources of approximately K34 billion have been transferred to repay part of the accumulating domestic debt”.

So, government has not just cut back on capital investments packaged in the development budget, but it is also diverting funds meant for public investments—mostly through infrastructure development—and pushing it towards consumption? And we expect to grow as a country?

Instead of being brave enough to cut wasteful spending that is mostly consumption in the recurrent budget, Capital Hill has opted for the easy route of icing projects that would have had multiplier effects on the economy through, among other things, job and asset creation.

Gondwe promised us a K30 billion cut to the budget yet he ended up slashing less than K10 billion or a third of what he pledged when he was in the company of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Just what happened here?

Was Goodall just playing to the camera? Or did he face a hostile situation with his Cabinet colleagues when he announced that he had to curtail their gallivanting and globe-trotting ways?

Or maybe, just maybe, someone at Treasury had failed to share a memo with the Minister right before the press conference, that the Malawi Revenue Authority had just found a miraculous formula and would now be able to raise K70 billion in the second half of the fiscal year after missing its target in the first half by K38 billion?

Or did someone forget to slip in a note to the honourable Minister that there could be a K60 billion windfall of budgetary support from the World Bank that would help fill in the gap?

I must say that I am struggling to make sense of all this, so I will rest here—and take a satisfactory swig of that Makata brew.

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