Why strong institutions matter in development

The theorist will often categorise landlocked Malawi with high transport costs. Often, such a thought is easily linked to the current state of development.

Due to high transport costs, it is prone to oil price shocks. Of course, this is quite sweeping. For sure no one should believe it, much as it has some aura of credibility. The non-belief has credibility since development is a broader concept. It means different things woven together and reflected in a high quality of life. Knowing what stops development and doing something about it remains a mystery much as it has huge elements of common sense. So, if one were to argue on transport costs, a counter thought is there. Malawi is connected to two ports in Mozambique.

But come to think of 2019, a year that Malawians go to undertake a ritual called elections. Awash are promises about what will be fixed to ensure high quality of life. It is difficult to rank the promises, but they look interesting. Dreaming is free for that matter after all.

Ironically, we are 11 months away from 2020. The vision 2020 that was commissioned in 1996 sought to make Malawi a middle-income country by the end of eleven months. The planning has always existed. From the statement of development policies at the dawn of the republic to the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS), Malawi Poverty Reduction Paper (MPRS) and various sector specific strategies. Not just these strategies, renaming of ministries, privatisation, “financial liberalisation”, creation of a planning commission and lean Cabinets. We have been there.

Not just these changes, but more important is a modern Constitution. Through this constitution economic rights have been guaranteed, at least on paper. Governance institutions created under the conditions. Their strengths and independence are a thesis on their own. We cannot discuss them here.

There are some hard hitting truths though. We are likely to remain a developing country or in simpler terms, one of the poorest on the planet that has never had a civil conflict. Civil conflicts often tend to be a good excuse to explain under-development. Surprisingly, next door in Mozambique they seem to have moved on at a much faster rate despite their long civil conflict.

So, why are we here? And who is our real enemy for development?

To be honest, corruption has skyrocketed and white-collar crime exponentially risen. It is manifested in dubious government contracts, massive land grabs by foreigners with average Malawians being pushed further down into poverty.

Over the years, we have experienced a rise of corruption   despite very good laws to stop it.  This corruption has mainly been white collar in nature, lapse of financial control systems, land grabs by foreigners and the powerful elite. A culture that one can get away with virtually any crime except pick-pocketing stealing goats has become a norm.

Maybe the lack of strong institutions and their ability to operate without political interference is the real reason why the country remains the poorest on the planet. It is easy to point fingers at public utilities for mediocre services, but that is just a symptom that institutions have failed.

Is institutional reform the reason why we are here? Shall we ever get some leadership to spearhead such reforms where the law deals with all criminals swiftly and sends fear in the minds of any wannabe white collar criminal?

Unless and until we deal with tough institutional questions, we might wish to secure permanent rights at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Living to eat for sure.n

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