‘Cut the chafff’ column back, critique Economic Recovery Plan

Nyasa Times reported last week that for two weeks Weekend Nation newspaper has not been publishing the column “Cut the Chaff” which has been critical of the Joyce Banda administration after pressure from State House. But the popular column is back in the weekly by Ephraim Munthali. In his comeback article, Munthali critiques the Economic Recovery Plan by government.

This is the column as it appeared in the Weekend Nation:

After two weeks in the wilderness, Cut the Chaff has returned, picking up from exactly where it left off—the Joyce Banda administration’s malfunctioning and its half-hearted attempts at solving the country’s economic and social crisis characterised by groaning citizens, striking workers, increasing numbers of hungry mouths, a shaky financial system and a turnaround plan that, well, is not a plan.

But before plunging into the treacherous waters of the sensitive political economy, I must attempt—because I am shamed—to apologise for absenting myself without taking leave of you. Having followed my work here, finding time to read my chaffy views and giving me both positive feedback and constructive criticism that have helped shape this column, I think you deserved better than the ghostly silence I offered you.

Atupele Muluzi: Economic 'redundancy' plan

It was not because I take you for granted—far from it—but circumstances well beyond my pay grade meant that I could not write and, therefore, unable to communicate my being inexplicably off the page through this dedicated space. I pray that you will forgive me and continue reading.

Now, Economic Planning and Development Minister Atupele Muluzi of the ‘Agenda for Change’ fame has not been the most visible member of the Banda Cabinet, with his deputy Khwauli Msiska being more assertive and authoritative than the boss.

So, when Atupele produced himself on Tuesday this week to outline a highly-anticipated Economic Recovery Plan (ERP), he ended up unveiling an Economic ‘Redundancy’ Plan (ERP) whose broad policy goals are a regurgitation of those already captured in the 2012/13 national budget that Finance Minister Dr Ken Lipenga presented in June and currently is under implementation with what some observers see as disastrous results.

Said Atupele: “Government understands that for the economy to stabilise there is need to bring back inflation to single digits, reduce interest rates, improve liquidity challenges among commercial banks and also cushion Malawians from the unintended result of economic reforms.”

Does that sound new to anyone? I always believe that if you do not have anything substantive to say, the best is to remain silent. Trying to say something just to show that you can do almost always invites embarrassment.

Firstly, it is curious that within three months of implementing what the administration has—curiously—interchangeably called a ‘recovery’ or sometimes ‘austerity’ budget, government wants to roll-out a ‘recovery plan’ that will bring results, positive ones apparently, within 12-18 months. Is the administration admitting that the current budget is in a coma and needs resuscitation?

Secondly, someone should remind this administration that the devil is always in the detail. Now, it is possible that the journalists who covered the press conference missed the specifics of the plan, but from what I have read so far, all government did was to offer generalities without specifics in terms of what exactly they will do and how it will be done to achieve clear goals within the targeted time frame.

A broad policy statement without a clear path and destiny is not a plan—it is called, cheap empty rhetoric and Malawians are already tired of such political games played at their expense. People are looking for real solutions to their problems not boilerplates and meaningless platitudes.

Thirdly, the second generation Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS II) is one of the most consultatively assembled documents in this country. Its nine priority areas are, therefore, a reflection of what Malawians from Nsanje to Chitipa want. President Banda has publicly endorsed it and modelled the current budget on this overarching policy blue-print.

The MGDS does not rate these priorities in terms of importance. So, how did that Cabinet retreat at the official presidential holiday resort of Chikoko Bay in Mangochi, arrive at the five priorities picked as deserving of special attention in the ‘redundancy’ plan?

Did that elitist gathering at the so-called national dialogue on the economy in Mangochi in May constitute consultation that led to this re-prioritisation?

Isn’t that a betrayal of the needs and aspirations of Malawians from Nsanje to Chitipa whose inputs gathered through extensive consultations formed the basis of the MGDS and its nine priorities?

To what extent could this piecemeal and unbalanced implementation of the five-year strategy impact on the blue-print’s overall goal?

My take is that while the so-called ERP can bring quick wins for the People’s Party (PP) to brag about in the run up to the 2014 general elections, the potential for uneven development and negligent of equally important sectors of the economy is high.

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