There are mixed feelings over China’s new round of cooperation with Malawi amounting to $1.5 billion (about K855 billion) in various sectors, including building a cancer centre, increasing power generation capacity by 300 megawatts (MW) and construction of a modern Chileka International Airport within three years.
During interviews on Capital Radio, critics ranging from University of Malawi dons, political commentators, politicians and analysts have been sharing mixed reaction to the Chinese aid.
People who also spoke to Nyasa Times expressed different views with others saying Chinese were welcome as investors but not as “vendors or shoe-shiners”.
They also noted that some Chinese are bringing bad habits as well as trade, investment, jobs and skills.
No strings attached
Happy Kayuni, Associate Professor and head of Political and Administrative studies at the University of Malawi, Chancellor College told Capital Radio that Malawi should “carefully look at strategic interests” of China.
Kayuni said China “doesn’t ask issues of good governance” while Western donors “ensure that we improve our governance structures.”
Malawi’s President, Peter Mutharika, has declared himself satisfied with his government’s relations with China and the development aid package. Mutharika said the Chinese projects come with “no strings attached”.
But Umodzi Party president John Chisi said there are “hidden” strings by the Chinese.
“What we have heard is what Malawi is gaining But we have not heard what China is going to gain from this country,” said Chisi on the radio.
“The Chinese might negotiate [to take control of] our minerals,” said Chisi, who was quick to add “I am speculating obviously.”
Chisi said: “To say that there is no condition is not true. There is no way China can take their tax payers money and give Malawi for nothing. There is no free lunch. “
The politician who contested and flopped in the 2014 presidential polls said the government should come clean on what will China benefit from Malawi.
“I have no problem with our President but I want our President to come clean. I don’t want to know that china is now controlling half of Malawi because of the grants. We cannot just be excited [the devil is in the details],” he said
Economist and chairperson of Economist Association of Malawi, Henry Kachaje noted that China “tend to bring their own labour force” in their projects on jobs that can be handled by locals.
“Its exciting thing that we are getting projects on the ground [but], we need jobs for Malawians,” he said.
Political commentator Humphreys Mvula said parliament should be approving such grants and loans.
“It is good to have a project in Malawi but I did expect such projects should go through parliament to approve the loan or grants.
“It is supposed to be approved through a parliamentary presentation by Minister of Finance,” said Mvula.
He also pointed out that Chinese do not give free money, saying for Beijing money it is given in exchange of what they will get out of the country.
The Chinese aid comes barely days after Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe ruled out the coming back of Malawi traditional donors- from Western countries – to prop up the government of Malawi purse.
Prominent newspaper columnist, George Kasakula who is also Editor-In-Chief of Malawi’s biggest media house, Times Group, wrote on his “Hitting Hard” column in Malawi News that the Chinese are a “different breed” of donors as locals find it hard to embezzle development funds.
“ They don’t patronise anybody when they give you a loan to build something but, more importantly, they do all the work by themselves leaving no room for thieving civil servants to dip their dirty fingers into the kitty.
“They are hard workers unlike some lazy bone compatriots and they will deliver the projects within the specified time. In short, when the Chinese promise and put pen to paper, they do not waste time but they deliver,” writes Kasakula.
Usually money is put into escrow accounts in Beijing; then a list of infrastructure projects is drawn up, Chinese companies are given contracts to build them and funds are transferred to company accounts. The country gets development projects but no cash. At least that is the theory, according to The Economist.
Kasakula cites the projects that China has put its mark on Malawi such as the country’s first five-star hotel, $90m worth of well-appointed rooms, a state-of-the-art Bingu Conference Centre and 14 opulent presidential suites. Then the Bingu stadium in Area 47— “massive structure that we can all be proud of.”
In his newspaper column, Kasakula also pointed out: “It is never lost on me that, these are loans that as a country, we will have to pay back to the Chinese but by all standards, they are wise investments.”
Of the seven projects only three are grants totalling $58 million (K33 billion) for the construction of the Blantyre District Hospital and Cancer Centre in Blantyre. The Blantyre District Hospital is set to be built at Kameza on the site where the abandoned Muammar Gaddafi Hospital Project was.
The projects would be financed by China Exim Bank, main lenders, while most would be implemented by China Gezhouba Group Company Limited.
Chinese aid figures are treated as state secrets. Exim Bank publish no figures about their vast loans to poor countries.
Among the grants which China has made is $2 million (about K1.1 billion) for the procurement of police for the Malawi Police Service, construction of a technical teacher’s training college costing $5 million (about K2.8 billion) and construction of community technical colleges costing $6 million.
Under the grants, China will also support technical services for the Bingu National Stadium for $1 million (K570 million), construction of a new Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation building amounting to $3 million and procurement of office equipment and furniture for the Ministry of Industry and Trade amounting to $1 million.
China has pended for review road projects namely Tsangano-Neno-Mwanza Road, Mangochi-Makanjira Road and the upgrading of the Phombeya-Makanjira-Nkhotakota-Chatoloma 220 kv power line.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :