Malawi Parliament: UDF president Atupele Muluzi’s response to the state of the nation address-Full Text

Mr. Speaker,

On behalf of my party, the United Democratic Front (UDF), I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to respond to Her Excellency, the President’s State of the Nation Address, ably delivered in this August House on Friday 8th February 2013.

Mr. Speaker,

Her Excellency’s Address highlighted the challenges before us and of the fact that our country and its economy are very much in transition. My response acknowledges the need to focus on the actions required to stabilize our economy but also the urgent imperatives for us to invest in long term transformational change which underpins the recovery and growth of our economy and society.

This will indeed be a period of great challenges but we are a nation that transcends.

Atupele Muluzi

Atupele Muluzi

I cite one of our great continental poets, Ben Okri:

We are the miracles that God made; to taste the bitter fruit of time.

We are precious.

And one day our suffering; will turn into the wonders of the earth.

Destiny is our friend.

 

Mr. Speaker,

My Response is framed along four enduring principles that the UDF is committed to:

  • Stabilization, recovery and growth of our ailing economy.
  • Building state capability, accountability and responsiveness.
  • Protecting the poor.
  • Ownership and leadership of our development agenda.

Stabilization, Recovery and Economic Growth

Mr. Speaker,

Her Excellency the President Dr. Joyce Banda highlighted in her speech her Government’s proposed efforts to recover the economy through the ERP, automatic fuel pricing mechanism, adjustment of Bank rates among others. There have been some notable and positive outcomes as a direct result to these reforms which include the resumption of the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) with the IMF, resumption of direct budgetary support and an increase in total domestic revenues by MWK 2.8 billion.

Mr. Speaker,

It will be important to see a clear indication on the following:

 

  1. A clearer articulation of key short, medium and long term priorities within the 2012/13 annual budget on well costed measures and priorities to both stabilize and recover our economy. This must include better use of domestic revenues.
  2. Clearer linkages between prioritized short term stabilization actions {and timelines} with medium to long term investment actions. Their synergies will be critical. To that, we look forward to the presentation of the mid-year review by the Minister of Finance.
  3. An articulation of the ‘partnership spaces’ that Government will grant non-state actors. Her Excellency highlighted that unity of purpose will be the delivery ethos of these reforms. As the House is aware, partnerships are not just a good thing in themselves-they make good economic sense. Partnerships will allow government to maximize the use of its limited resources, learn from others and draw synergies wherever possible.
  4. Prioritize on unlocking binding constraints towards short and medium term economic recovery: this means making ease of doing business better through timely enactment of key legislationand eliminating bureaucratic red tape.
  5. It is important to ensure an obsessive focus on results, and a need for total transparency and accountability in the use of public resources (especially our own domestic revenues) that are to be allocated to deliver on these reforms. This is part of our Good Governance challenge, to which I will speak to in detail.

Building State Capability, Accountability and Responsiveness

Mr. Speaker Sir,

Her Excellency’s speech recognizes the importance of several key governance institutions (The Law Commission, The Malawi Human Rights Commission, The Office of The Ombudsman and The Electoral Commission). She also highlights the importance of the Anti-Corruption Bureau and its work in corruption prevention and law enforcement as well as ongoing public sector reforms.

Mr. Speaker Sir,

Good governance is about building the State’s ability to: a) get things done by way of capability; b) be answerable to its citizens through accountability and c) identify and meet the needs of its citizens in terms of responsiveness.

Let me first make a few fundamental observations:

Firstly, Malawi’s problems are not so much around lack of resources within our public fiscus. It is in the way that we have allocated, used and accounted for these resources that are problematic. In most times, they have been diverted for other uses and not to deliver public goods and services. This is a symptom of weak capability.

Secondly, Malawians need a Government that is answerable to how it prioritizes, uses and allocates its resources. Malawians understand that this administration is not responsible for the economic mess that it inherited but it must and should take full responsibility of restoring the efficiency and productiveness of the public service-not by focusing on setting up a myriad of systems and processes, but focusing on actual delivery.  An absence of the latter illustrates weak accountability.

Thirdly, our people expect ‘business un-usual’. Malawians would like to see their government focus all its energies demonstrating tangible results and verifiable deliverables especially in the delivery of public goods and services. This is a core tenet of responsiveness.

Mr. Speaker,

I will try to illustrate the importance of good governance through the three key principles I have outlined above by looking at the following key sectors, which do not lack resources, but rather, demonstrate poor governance arrangements.

Health Sector: The recent shortage of medicines and other essential facilities in our public hospitals is a glaring example of a serious failure in the governance of our health delivery systems where the country has enough supply. The Honourable Minister of Health must be held to account for the situation that led to the unavailability of essential medicines in our public hospitals.

Agriculture: The focus, distribution and management of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme/ coupon system/distribution of relief maize must not be patronage based; otherwise it could compromise the recovery efforts underway.

Mr. Speaker, Agriculture, is this country’s oldest industry, and we have already in Malawi a lot of transformational and innovative plans; yet few are implemented.

Price Stabilisation Funds: Government needs to account for resources accumulated in the price stabilization fund prior to the 2009 elections. These funds should be used to clear the arrears in the system and to deliver on public goods.

Mr. Speaker,

The point I am trying to illustrate here is that Governance permeates all that we do in this country.

Protecting the poor and vulnerable

Mr. Speaker Sir,

Her Excellency recognizes that regaining macroeconomic balance through exchange rate adjustment will have unintended socio-economic impacts on the general population which need to be mitigated.

It is also worth highlighting that the impact is not just magnified for the poor and vulnerable households in both rural and urban areas {who lack the assets and avenues for coping with any negative livelihood movements}, but also among a struggling middle class that has been consistently hit by recent economic shocks.

Basic and essential items like flour, bread, milk, medical, education necessities, transportation costs, electricity and water rates are escalating and in turn, are affecting peoples’ livelihoods.

Mr. Speaker Sir,

I would like to flag up several critical issues:

  • The Government’s current approach to Social Protection is incoherent. Despite government’s endorsement of the Social Support Policy, Malawi continues to have disparate social protection programmes that are not yet driven by our overarching policy framework. We need a coherent package of cushions to protect Malawians against the effects of our current economic stabilization reforms.
  • In the absence of a coherent approach, we continue to have uncoordinated financing arrangements for our social protection programmes {albeit on or off budget}.
  • We need to think through how to capture those who are perennially vulnerable.
  • But most importantly, we must recognize that it is not about the resources that will need to be allocated to these social protection programmes-it is the quality of lives that these programmes are actually improving. That is, it is about what the money buys that matters rather than fixations on the size of the envelope.

Ownership and leadership of our development agenda

Mr. Speaker Sir,

I would like to lastly touch upon an area that is very dear to me.

Our ability to deliver on our development aspirations is underpinned by our sense of clarity that we as Malawians, own and drive our path and objectives. This stems from the recognition that the effectiveness of our development efforts is dependent on the commitment of the country’s leadership to development.

Our development partners will only begin to take us seriously if we are seen to be leading and driving our agenda. Of-course this means finessing the art of balancing domestic and external consultation which is a really critical parameter. The time is more critical now because of the following:

  • We have no option but to respond to domestic political imperatives which beg us to really listen to what Malawians want and need.
  • We as politicians have no choice but to shift our focus from short term imperatives which are largely driven by the need to secure another term in office to a long term approach which is about leaving behind a legacy of having delivered public goods which are at the heart of the transformation of this society.
  • Collective action is the only basis for resolving most of our problems, and that it is possible to reach out across the broad political spectrum to deliver on these objectives.
  • Ownership is part of our efforts to build Malawi as a nation with an identity as well as one of proud and dignified citizens.

Mr. Speaker,

Thank you for granting me the opportunity to provide my Response to Her Excellency’s Speech in this August House. I would also like to take this opportunity to communicate that the UDF will be holding its first Policy Conference this year to initiate robust dialogue on Malawi’s key policy priorities and approaches to deliver on these.

‘A Luta Continua’—Our Struggle Continues— and “GOD BLESS MALAWI’’

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