WHY FROGS CROAK
How can we allow the government to continue spending billions of kwachas on fertilizer subsidies that primarily benefit subsistence farmers who are unable to use the inputs efficiently?
An analysis by Kingsley Jassi, a Malawian journalist
Malawi: The silence in the room is deafening as I lie on a couch and the darkness slowly thickens. In this country, one must become accustomed to going longer without electricity than with it – a fact that is subtly accepted by the 12 percent minority that is connected.
Frogs croak from a distant everglade. In the dark, they sound truly mystical. It's in its nature, and it gets along well with those who embrace it.
The distant cooing frogs are drowned out by the sudden roar of a Genset from the next house. The nearby growling sound of a petrol power generator interrupts my meditation. I turn to attend to the only company I have, quietly resting nearby, to keep me occupied.
When I open Facebook, the first thing I see is a load-shedding schedule that punishes my area with more than ten-hour blackouts.
I quickly navigate to Whatsapp. On this other forum, there is a heated debate about the President's ultimatum to his Agriculture Minister to establish at least one mega farm within six months.
I decide not to join, no matter how tempting it is. But then I wonder why the President enjoys these kinds of podium stunts.
The Tonse Alliance's quick-fix promises include mega-farms. Nonetheless, two years have passed and the concept remains buried in the manifesto. It's not surprising that no significant industrial project has seen the light of day.
Malawi is this poor for two reasons: low productivity and waste of the few resources available.
Concerned about the waste of public resources, I decided to open the documents folder and read Budget Document No. 5 of the 2021-2022 national budget. I go after the Presidency and State Residencies, where you can be as angry as I am and probably curse the President for being a lying hypocrite.
The Presidency is the first allocation in the budget under Statutory expenditure (including the Vice President). Parliament approved K45 million for their salaries and benefits last fiscal year.
By the end of the fiscal year, 'the presidency' had spent nearly K79 million, or 75.5 per cent more than was budgeted. The current budget allocates nearly K107 million.
I'm curious how much these two increased their salaries and benefits by. I recall civil servants only receiving an average 15% raise, which was further eroded by the new PAYE rate. By the way, neither of the two leaders pays taxes.
I get to Section two of this budget document by scrolling up on my phone. This section contains voted expenditures. The first vote is for State Residences, which are controlled by the Chief of Staff.
"To serve the President of the Republic of Malawi as he delivers his national agenda," reads the mission statement. Interesting. Last fiscal year, a budget of K6.9 billion was approved. State House had spent K15.5 billion by the end of the fiscal year. That's K8.5 billion, or approximately 124.6 per cent more than they were supposed to spend.
Because this is money that was not available in the budget, Treasury had to borrow from local banks. By the way, this is how the debt grows.
By any standard, I consider this to be serious financial indiscipline. This behaviour could easily derail the much-anticipated IMF programme. Fortunately, there wasn't one for them.
"How can the President preside over such financial indiscipline?" I shake my head in rage as I consider some very important and strategic projects that are stalling due to a lack of funds.
Meanwhile, the mega-farms project has been dormant for two years, and the President wants us to believe it's his Agriculture Minister's fault? No! Who presided over the Cabinet meeting that approved the budget proposal with no funds for mega farm implementation?
Press Agriculture has thousands of hectares of idle land, and it does not even need to borrow money from the Treasury to make some of these farms produce much-needed soya. Pension funds, which are plentiful, can be borrowed for that commercial purpose.
Mybucks came here, raised K10 billion from the stock market via a corporate bond, and founded one of the fastest-growing banks in the country. Is it difficult to raise funds to show even one mega farm?
I close the budget document. The more I read it, the angrier I become. Perhaps what we need is not a change in politicians, but a change in politics itself, so that people have more control over national affairs.
My thoughts return to our economic failures. Malawians do not deserve these pitiful blackouts. On second thought, perhaps we deserve it.
We were told that the country has enough resources or means to build power plants and end the blackouts that began in 2004 because of a monkey.
There is enough money and land for large-scale farming for exports, but God only knows why this country continues to plan without taking the time to implement. Why are politicians not held accountable? I quickly recall living in a passive society.
Many people believe they are too intelligent to express political opinions, but I believe they are passive. A vibrant democracy requires citizen participation to hold duty bearers accountable.
How can we allow the government to continue spending billions of kwachas on fertiliser subsidies that primarily benefit subsistence farmers who are unable to use the inputs efficiently?
For fear of food insecurity, the country cannot even export 100,000 tonnes of maize to Zimbabwe. Where is the excess maize that we overproduced by over a million tonnes in 2021?
Can a country develop if it spends so much money, land, and labour on maize that is only grown for food? Can you grow economically if you spend most of your time working for food?
My phone's battery is running low, and it dies before I can see where the President is going this week as he blows the K14 billion budget when the Ministry of Industry and Trade only gets half that amount and has the Industrial Parks project with no funding to get started.
The power is restored, and the neighbour's generator is turned off, as male frogs croak louder to attract females.