“The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return.” ~ Gore Vidal
A 2013 International Monitory Fund (IMF) working paper prepared by Christian Ebeke and Dilan Ölçer established that in Low-Income countries elections have negative impact on a country’s fiscal discipline during the election year and two years following those elections. The paper finds that during elections period “government consumption significantly increases and leads to higher fiscal deficits.”
The paper further added that “during the two years following the election fiscal discipline takes the form of increased revenue mobilisation in trade taxes and cuts to government investment, with no significant cuts in government consumption.” The paper concludes that elections not only lead to macroeconomic costs when they take place in Low-Income countries, such as Malawi, but elections also trigger a painful fiscal adjustments in which public investment largely sacrificed.
Those who closely follow Malawi political process and governance cannot really dispute against this conclusion. Of course it is a gloomy indictment democracies in Low-Income countries. Yet, doing away with democracies is not an option. Afrobarometer statistics indicate that over 70% of Malawians still prefer democracy to other forms of government. This is an overwhelming majority, it be underestimated. No Malawi President has ever won elections with this majority in history of Malawi democracy.
The point is to make democracy work for Malawi and its people, large and small; rich or poor; educated and uneducated; urban or rural. In relation to the findings of the IMF working paper, regulating campaign funding and political spending would be a good place to start electoral and political reforms.
Politicians and political parties spend a lot of money during campaign period with the aim of recovering the money at citizens expense once elected into office. The estimated amount of money spent by candidates to get into office is colossal. I do not believe that we have politicians among us that spend money for the love of Malawi and its people. Such spending is clearly about power and financial rewards. This is why electoral defeat is very difficult to accept in Low-Income countries.
Blessings Chinsinga of University of Malawi’s Chancellor College earlier this year wrote in The Sunday Times that contesting for a parliamentary seat is not getting cheaper. According to him, “conservative projections indicate that it took a minimum MK 5 Million to win a seat in the May 20 2014 polls.”
He further added:“In a country where per capita income is as low as MK 152,000 per annum, MK 5 Million is pretty much a fortune. Consequently triumphant candidates do not immediately focus on their triple mandate of representation, legislation and oversight. They instead, get preoccupied with how to recoup the investment made in campaign which includes courting the attention of the president for ministerial position.”
Thusly, it is not surprising that among the very first things that MPs and cabinet ministers do once in office is to demand their own pay increase. The State President feel obliged if not mandated to ‘look after’ people that helped them win elections. This contributes to unnecessary public spending because the president ends up with a bloated cabinet, a community of ‘advisors’ and often costly, unlawful sacking and replacing of officials in public institutions.
You only need to look at Joyce Banda and Peter Mutharika’s presidency (so far) to see these examples at play. This fully supports the 2 years post elections public spending stated in the IMF working paper’s findings.
There is a say that in Low-Income countries people join politics if they want to make quick money, while in developed countries folks go and work in financial institutions if they want to achieve the same. Malawi is certainly living up to this stereotype. Democracy itself is not a bad thing and it is not true that it is not suited to other cultures and traditions. Like anything that is not properly regulated, democracy is open to abuse. Like I suggested earlier, Malawi politics needs to be regulated if its democracy is to be meaningful and work for the benefit of the country and its people.
One of the starting points is to have politicians and political parties publicly declaring their sources of funding. Politicians’ pay must be relative to the country’s per capita income, and the country must have a limit on political campaign spending. For this to happen, the country needs commitment and political will to establish necessary institutions, reduce the massive presidential powers and adhere to separation of powers between the three arms of government.
Enhancing separation of powers means that, among other crucial things, no parliamentarian should be a cabinet minister because this brings conflict of interest, as the two arms of government need to check on each other. Kenyans have successfully changed their constitution to achieve this. Doing this would go a long way in dealing with what Chinsinga described as “incentive structures”, which is what fosters political greed.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :