We are surely a nation in distress. As a good neighbor, we join our good brothers and sisters in Zambia in mourning their departed head of state, Michael Chilufya Sata. I, for one, will miss Sata for his informality, openness and courage.
In 2013 during the African Union Summit President Sata stayed in the same hotel wing with his Malawian counterpart Dr Joyce Banda. The two Presidents’ suites were actually directly opposite each other.
In the morning when Sata got out of his room he saw a number of us in the corridor and noisy as he was he stopped and asked where we were from. When we told him we were from Malawi he left his security detail and went straight for the door of the Malawian President’s suite, all the while shouting ‘A Ngwazi muli bwanji?’ He was unstoppable. Of course much to the discomfort of his security personnel who would have liked to be pre warned of the detour. He was ushered into President Banda’s room and had a good seven-minute chat with her before proceeding on his early morning errands. That is how informal and courageous Sata was. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
But we have other distressing problems. Cashgate: which has resulted in donors withholding their budget support, and now the delay in executing the Farm Input subsidy Programme (Fisp) and Farm Input Loan Programme (Filp). As you read this article less than 15 percent of the fertilizer for the targeted beneficiaries throughout the country have been delivered. Coupon distribution has not started.
The Minister of Agriculture and Water Development is on record as saying the country has to wait for 45 days since last week before the whole programme can roll out in full force. It is as if the whole country has just woken up from a slumber.
As a country we can rightly or wrongly blame this on budget constraints which have inevitably and invariably resulted in delays in funding and contracting for Fisp and Filp.
But my gut feeling is that government cannot blame everything on budget constraints. Granted donors contribute 40 percent of the budget support but even then during the past four years not all that funding has come through.
As a matter of fact, between 2010 and 2012 we lost K92 billion, according to an audit report. Thanks to the German government who have given K9 billion for a private firm to conduct a forensic audit on the report so that we know how that money went down the drain.
So we cannot blame all the mess we are in now on donors withholding funding this year. It is all about planning or lack of it.
Admitted the budget was approved in September but what was government doing while waiting for the full budget? I thought we had a provisional budget.
If government had prioritized Fisp and considered that the rainy season will not wait for us we would have factored at the minimum 60 percent of the Fisp budget in the provisional budget. After all donors started withholding their budget support in September 2013 before they disbursed most of the 2013/14 funding. So budget constraints is not a new phenomenon. It has always been there.
I have privileged information to the effect that contracts for fertilizer are just being signed now while seed contracts have not yet been signed. I am told that seed companies are also being owed a billion kwacha from last year’s Fisp. Yet by now farmers ought to have received seed in readiness for planting.
Meanwhile I can guarantee that the planting rains will wait for nobody. Fears being expressed by agriculture officials that the 2014/15 programme may be the worst ever need not be underestimated.
Little if any seems to have taken taken place on the agriculture front since elections. All we hear and read in the media are arrests and activities in the courts. It is as if we have all just become spectators of the Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Courts arresting and trying looters of our taxes. Yet we have had a cabinet in place since June to give policy direction to the various ministries.
On the economic front it is as if we also forgot that after selling the tobacco, the Kwacha would begin to slip again. As I am writing this article today I note that the Malawi Kwacha is selling at 520 units to the dollar, a slip of 20 percent from the closure of the tobacco auction floors.
From my little knowledge of the agriculture cycle, you cannot reverse losses owing to late planting which is due to late procurement and delivery of seed and fertilizers to the small holder farmers.
And with food contributing 50 percent to the consumer price index, poor harvests which are a certainty in the 2014/15 growing season, I can also guarantee that in the coming year inflation will shoot over 27.3 percent. This trend is likely to heighten poverty levels in the country.
This is where I expect our usually vociferous Civil Society to come in the fore and start raising alarms. Or should we say they all stopped thinking after the May 20 tripartite elections.
- The article was first was first published in Malawi News.