I have patiently been waiting for the country’s major presidential aspirants to outline their policy positions on how to improve the Malawi economy.
I have listened to Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Peter Mutharika, Malawi Congress Party’s (MCP) Lazarus Chakwera, People’s Party’s (PP) Joyce Banda and UTM’s Saulos Chilima. From Mutharika, all I have heard is how he has stabilised the economy—single digit inflation, lower interest rates a stable exchange rate that has arrested volatility in the currency market and how he has achieved the historically high import cover.
This is all good, yet the World Bank tells us that Malawi’s poverty levels are worsening, with more people falling into the ultra-poor band.
Gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates remain too low in the three to four percent range, with the economy bleeding more jobs than it creates.
The trade balance is at one of its widest while commodity prices are crushing to frustrating levels for the producer—especially that poor grower.
As for Chilima, he simply waxes lyrical about creating one million jobs in his first year in office, but falls short of outlining concrete measures for achieving that other than vague generalisations.
Of late, he is promising to handout cash to the elderly, but happily forgets to explain where he will get that kind of money.
In short, Chilima has not outlined any coherent economic policy that distinguishes itself from Mutharika’s economic agenda.
The once cool guy is increasingly becoming an angry young man who has learnt the old politics of ranting and raving that he once claimed to despise. The policy wonk we used to know is fading—rapidly.
As for Chakwera and Banda, the duo has wasted a lot of time telling us what we already know: the economy is in bad shape.
But they have failed to discuss how they intend to turn it around should they win next year’s elections.
In fact, Chakwera and Banda appear to be well over their heads—not too sure about what is their place in this campaign period, let alone how to couch an economic message that makes sense.
Those who have followed Malawi’s economic trajectory know that there are four main drivers of economic growth in Malawi.
The first is physical capital accumulation—what will the aspiring leaders do to expand gross national investments that have historically been associated with high economic growth rates through rapid expansion of investments in key sectors of the economy?
The second is human capital development in terms of policies for improving primary, secondary and tertiary education and how the potential leaders would link this to economic growth and household prosperity.
The third is international trade and how those aspiring to govern us from next year will leverage this to boost real incomes for households and firms.
The fourth looks at inflation and the real exchange rate. For too long the country has failed to provide clarity on the strategic direction in this area, leaving everyone confused.
I am really interested in the policy mix that each leader can propose as a way out of the country’s stagnation.
Malawi, for example, needs a leader who can articulate the right pollination of policies—not just isolated populist follies passing for policy—to take back the country onto a sustainable growth path similar to Bingu wa Mutharika’s first five years between 2004 and 2009 when the country recorded an average economic growth rate of 6.5 percent per annum and saw poverty levels falling.
I for one need answers on how—should one of these folks get the keys to State House and Capitol Hill—would manage monetary policy in a way that enables it to boost output and create jobs in both the short and long term.
I would like to hear the policy mix they will fertilise to grow domestic revenue and sharply cut domestic borrowing that is crowding out firms and households as well as suffocating implementation of the national budget.
I am really itching to learn what they will do to control the commodity price plunge the country is choking under.
Given the critical need of foreign aid to the country’s development needs, what foreign policy tweaks will they midwife to bring back donor confidence in the country’s public finance and economic management system?
As far as I am concerned, these are some of the biggest questions of our time that demand suggestions for answers from those claiming to be capable of leading the country out of the problems.
Unfortunately, all I hear from these folks is how to tear each other down, not how to tear the problems apart.
Malawians deserve better.