Malawi President JB’s austerity measures do not make sense

We, Malawians, are blessed. We have the knack of having, or to put it more accurately, of ending up with pedagogical leaders.

If most of us were attentive, by now we would have learnt a lot from our presidents – past and present – on issues spanning over valleys of disciplines.

During the Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda era, weren’t we Malawians harangued with free history discourses, left, right and centre; day and night; from 1964 to 1993?

And weren’t those history lessons, followed by a nation-wide internship in the art of business (with a good dose corruption and diversion of donor funds into personal accounts on the side) from 1994 to 2004?

President Banda Vice President Khumbo Kachali: Takes 30% salary cuts, a joke

And after graduating from this summa cum laude – didn’t we (66% of us at least) on May 19, 2009 vote for an economic engineer? Correct me if am wrong, wasn’t there a lecture in “indigenous economics”, from this very economic engineer on July 20, 2011 – while Lilongwe and other towns were burning?If we are still uneducated, honestly speaking, our leaders cannot be faulted for not doing enough.

But yes, may be, may be, they can be faulted. Why? Because, many a time their teachings do not make sense.

And just where is this coming from?

Take for instance the current, widely celebrated presidency of Mrs Joyce Banda.  Even before clocking six months in office, she has – like a true African mother – decided that no-one will beat the drum to mark the time for her to imbue us with lessons of life.

She is at it.

And her choice of the subject to drill us in cannot be said to be irrelevant by any one in their right senses. It is very relevant, appropriate and on everyone’ mouths all over the world. In Greece, Spain, Italy, USA, UK, France and what have you – they are all singing the same song, the song of austerity.

Now, if we Malawians are not paying attention to her, we will miss the wisdom that our good president is dispensing free of charge. While we are at it, we should also take special note of the timing. Timing can make or break the best of dreams and strategies.

The Joyce Banda Tutorial:

Scene 1 Act 1:

(The stage is set in Malawi) Raise cabinet ministers’ allowances by 80%. If there is an outcry, have some junior official in the ministry or Office of President and Cabinet defend the increase; and then its business as usual.

Scene 1 Act 2:

(Still in Malawi) Undertake various voyages of discovery – visiting practically any chief who beacons; never minding the cost that presidential engagements entail.

Scene 1 Act 3:

Let the Vice President go to the North, and whilst he is in his backyard, take a swipe at those whining about travelling too much, and having made the point, nudge him to apologise.

Scene 2 Act 1:

(Now the United Nations General Assembly comes calling) Take a forty-strong contingent to this jamboree, the contingent to include at least four traditional chiefs (who, by virtue of being away, she cannot visit), some party officials etc. etc.

Bottom line: Drain K308 million, equivalent to US$1 million, from the bleeding treasury.

Scene 2 Act 2:

While this entourage is still in Obamaland, let the VP announce that you have graciously decided on a voluntary 30% salary cut.

Curtain – end of tutorial.


Now, what am I taking home from this?

Reportedly, the President earns about US$5,000 and the Vice President about US$4,000 per month. Simple math reveals that this voluntary salary reduction will translate into combined monthly savings of US$2,700 – a saving not to be scoffed at, at any rate.

And what’s more, in twelve months, it could translate into US$32,400!

Now let us revisit Scene 2 Act 1 – the UN trip: ceteris paribus, if the president had reduced her entourage by the same 30%, she could have saved the Malawian taxpayer US$300,000.

If she had halved it – which is presidentially and humanly possible – she could have spared a whooping US$500,000 for the poor masses including the rural mothers and children she holds so dear.

My thinking about halving the entourage is of course wishful thinking. Because it is known world-over that Malawian and African presidents in general, feel insecure when they are surrounded by anyone other than their traditional hand clappers.

Therefore, let us focus on the 30% on the grounds that if she has managed this reduction on her salary, she could have applied it to the entourage. Following this line of thought, had the president reduced the entourage by thirty percent,ceteris paribus, she could have saved Malawi US$300,000.

Why am I belabouring this point?

It is because President Joyce Banda and the Vice President now need ten years at the reduced salary to break even on just this one unnecessarily bloated trip.

US$32,400 x 10 is just a little above US$300,000.

So each time the president makes an international voyage cum a larger than life entourage, even if she gave up her whole salary, it would not help in Malawi’s development. Plus, all the leaders that she and her delegation has met and are meeting in the US have ambassadors in Malawi who know our plight and can therefore send appeals for us, if need be.

On top of that people of goodwill, billionaires like Soros, can willingly and happily visit Malawi at their own cost to assess the sectors in which they can help and work with us.

With this bitter lesson, am at a loss as to what the good president is trying to teach me vis-à-vis austerity.

If she goes on like this, am afraid, I for one will learn and reap nothing from her presidency; which will be a shame. I had some expectations, not big, but nevertheless some. May be it is because my mother never failed me and she always got her priorities right!

I have not given up hope; I am hoping that amongst the +15 million sons and daughters of Malawi, there are some who can explain this paradox to me.

If I were to call what we are now witnessing:  suicidal madness, insanity, wastefulness, profligacy, and undue extravagance would I be wrong?

This is why, with no iota of regret, I hereby conclude that President Joyce Banda’s austerity measures do not make sense. The 30% salary cut can indeed fool some people but not all the people; and believe me when I say that many people out there have not been fooled.

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