Finance Minister Maxwell Mkwezalamba was in Brussels, Belgium, this week negotiating a new financial planf for Malawi from the 28-member European Union (EU). This comes at a time Malawi is reeling under perhaps the worst financial scandal since independence nearly half-a-century ago. RAPHAEL TENTHANI engages the former African Union Economics Commissioner on his gargantuan task. Excerpts:
You’re in Brussels on a mission that has been described as both a ‘challenge’ and an ‘opportunity’, do you agree with this analysis?
Yes I do agree with this analysis
It is a challenge because problems currently surrounding public finance management in Malawi have sent signals to our cooperating partners, including the European Union (EU), that our systems cannot be trusted. You will recall that this resulted in delayed disbursement of general and sector budget support in November this year.
At the same time, it is an opportunity for us to lobby for support for strengthening of our public finance management system and governance institutions as well as discuss with the EU on the possibility of reviewing their decision on delayed budget support disbursement in view of the substantial progress that Malawi has made in addressing the challenges we face through, among others, ensuring speedy and effective implementation of the Malawi Government Action Plan on strengthening the public finance system.
You are negotiating a €560 11th European Development Fund (EDF) for Malawi. But having in mind what’s happening in Malawi – the infamous ‘cashgage’ and the resultant freezing of aid by the Common Approach on Budgetary Support (Cabs) for which EU is a key member – do you think you can convince the donors to trust the Joyce Banda administration with that cash?
Only today (Wednesday), I had the opportunity to meet the EU Commissioner for Development, His Excellency Andris Piebalgs, who confirmed that Malawi has been allocated €560 million under the 11th EDF to support programmes in areas of Governance, Agriculture and Food Security and Education.
I haven’t met anybody who doubts your credentials for the job. That said, however, most people say they don’t envy you for becoming Finance Minister at a time Malawi was experiencing perhaps the worst financial scandal in its half-a-century of nationhood. Don’t you think it was kind of foolhardy for you to accept this job at such a time?
For me, I would not say that it was foolhardy to accept this job. It is never unwise for one to save one’s own country. I see this as a great opportunity and honour to be of service to my country and I thank the President, Her Excellency, Dr. Joyce Banda, for her trust and confidence in me to undertake this challenging task.
In this regard, I call upon all Malawians to provide the necessary support to me for I, as one person, cannot do it alone.
It is frustrating, disheartening and disappointing to see what misguided, selfish, unpatriotic and unscrupulous individuals can do to tarnish the image of the country they call their country and to deny it the necessary resources to implement its development agenda to benefit the very people they call their fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, friends and other relatives.
Dr. Mkwezalamba, you have just had a successful meeting with the EU on the 11th EDF. But the EU, though important, is just but one of Malawi’s strategic cooperating partners. What are you doing to convince the other cooperating – let’s call them development – partners in the wake of the unravelling ‘cashgate’ at Capital Hill?
As I have just said, I met Commissioner Piebalgs and the deal is done. On behalf of the President, the Malawi government and the people of Malawi, I wish to thank the E.U for this generous support and understanding.
As Minister of Finance, I will work closely with the various stakeholders to ensure that the resources will be used for their intended purposes for the benefit of the Malawian citizenry. We will work towards ensuring timely disbursement of the funds and I invite all those involved to work towards ensuring that this happens.
I also commit myself to ensuring that the economic programme that we are implementing with the Intentional Monetary Fund (IMF)’s Extend Credit Facility (ECF) is on course and that the Malawi Government Action Plan is implemented in earnest with all the attention it deserves.
As part of your blue-print on austerity measures, you introduced a moratorium on ‘unnecessary’ local and international travels for government officials, including the President, and the purchasing of movable assets by government ministries and departments. Are these measures being adhered to religiously? President Banda, for instance, has been to Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Nigeria, as well as Kasungu and Mzimba since your edict. Such trips are nowhere near ‘very important’ and therefore ‘necessary’ or ‘fully-paid for’ in my book…
I would wish to inform all my brothers and sisters in Malawi and outside, as well as other stakeholders, including our development partners, that the austerity measures that I announced about three weeks ago were taken collectively at the level of cabinet. So the measures were a result of a cabinet decision.
The measures are very clear and are being implemented in full. Relating to local travel, only necessary and critical travel is being undertaken whereas fully-funded external travel is being undertaken in line with the cabinet decision.
I don’t see you as a politician, Dr. Mkwezalamba, but you have to work with politicians who have to fight elections in five months’ time. Do you see these politicians agreeing with your austerity measures that may largely keep them in-doors and therefore away from potential voters?
You are quite right that I work with politicians and that I came in as a technocrat. Initially, I had the same feeling that I will meet resentment. But I must say that the leadership and cabinet have been very supportive.
Like I said, the austerity measures were taken collectively by the cabinet. My cabinet colleagues fully understand that the economy needs to be put first before the politics. It cannot be the other way round. They fully understand the economy would need to perform.
As the famous maxim goes, “good economics makes good politics”. I thank them for their understanding and look forward for their continued understanding and support for a better Malawi.
To my fellow Malawians, these austerity measures are only temporary. Let us remember that there is no gain without pain.
What’s your own personal ambition, Dr. Mkwezalamba? You have effectively retired as an international civil servant and you’re now in cabinet. Will we see you bidding for Parliament, even for Kamuzu Palace, any time soon?
All I can say is that I am comfortable, happy and satisfied with what I am doing as Minister of Finance. It is an honour and privilege for me to serve the leadership and my beautiful country, Malawi, in this position. I am thrilled to face the challenges of the job and feel greatly fulfilled.
Finally, Mr. Minister, what is your general message to Malawians?
I wish to thank Her Excellency the President, Dr. Joyce Banda, for her confidence and trust in me which culminated in appointing me Minister of Finance.
Malawians need to love their country, love their people and remain patriotic to their country, and not focus on unacceptable, illegal, immoral and unethical conduct aimed at personal enrichment.
In loving their country, Malawians should always be ready to act as whistle-blowers when they observe or come across individuals with unexplained wealth.
It is wrong to believe that government resources are nobody’s and hence can be stolen willy-nilly. This has to change as these are tax-payers’ resources intended to support the provision of social and economic services to the nation.
I would like to say that it is high time that Malawi put more effort and emphasis on enhancing domestic revenue mobilisation, including through tax and non-tax measures, and improving expenditure management.
When one examines all this it all boils down to our mind-set. We need to change our mind-set if Malawi is to make significant strides in eradicating poverty and developing its economy.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :