Ntata’s Uncommon Sense: Leaking airport, leaking Malawi

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be one to blame any particular president for the embarrassingly shoddy airport infrastructure exposed the water leakages that resulted in a flooded Kamuzu International Airport the other day.  But we do live in a country where even good rains are claimed by the party faithful to be the result of great leadership, so perhaps we must point the figure of blame in the same direction it is pointed when good rains or anything good ever happens in this almost perpetually bungled country.

The real question is why. Why is it that after 50 years of independence, 50 years of politicians promising that the country will develop and people’s lives will improve, we seem to be moving backwards?

And How. How can any administration that claims to be running the country well and seeking a new mandate from voters allow for an airport, the first impression any visitor to the county has of Malawi, to become so dilapidated that it floods when it rains?

The reason is actually quite simple.  Our political leaders have been unwilling to implement the necessary solutions. They are so obsessed with development structures that are likely to bring them quick votes in their so-called weak areas that they become blind to very elementary political realities: Good infrastructure brings investment. Investment bring in economic growth. Economic growth brings in votes.

The blatant and most clear example is with the current Democratic Progressing Party (DPP) administration under both the late Bingu wa Mutharika, and now being perpetuated by his brother, the incumbent Peter Mutharika. Instead of developing the airport and improving air travel, they build a house of parliament. Instead of solving electricity problems, they build a football stadium. I will come back to this point shortly.

First of all, we must all agree that in the years succeeding independence, instead of building on the important infrastructural foundations that were set by Kamuzu Banda during the one party rule, most of the structures and systems that were set up then have been destroyed and sometimes even deliberately allowed to dilapidate.

The country that once had a vibrant commercial investment framework in the form of Admarc, the Malawi Development Corporation and the Press Corporation group, as well as solid infrastructure for development in the form of reliable electricity, water supply and other services, is now just a thing of the past. What we have left are a failing service delivery system, and a country leadership that seems more interested in building hotels, football stadiums and roads in places they are not particularly needed; a love affair with projects that often have questionable public utility.

Now, underdevelopment is thought to be about lack of investment, and many political economy theories can account for this. Yet, there has been much investment in Malawi but without the corresponding development to show for it over the past 50 years. The problem has been that investment growth has not led to output growth. We therefore need to explain not simply underinvestment, but also the miss-allocation of investment.

It is in this regard that we must blame the DPP’s penchant for the construction of white elephants—investment projects with negative social surplus.

Bingu wa Mutharika’s successful food security project notwithstanding, (and I still have great admiration for Bingu) I wish to propose that as Malawians, we need to stop praising and clapping hands for DPP white elephants that only serve to entrench the DPP in power but have no real substance in improving the country’s economic situation or investment profile.

The DPP type white elephant projects simply have been a particular type of inefficient redistribution, which ispolitically attractive when these politicians find it difficult to make credible promises to supporters.

It is the very inefficiency of such projects that makes them politically appealing. This is so because it allows only some politicians to credibly promise to build them and thus enter into credible redistribution. The fact that not all politicians can credibly undertake such projects gives those who can a strategic advantage. Socially efficient projects do not have this feature since all politicians can commit to build them and they thus have a symmetric effect on political outcomes.

It seems to me that white elephants are preferred to socially efficient projects if the political benefits are large compared to the surplus generated by efficient projects.

Around 2008 when the Chinese offered to help Malawi with some needed development projects, the DPP leadership, at that time under late Bingu wa Mutharika, asked the Chinese government to help with the following projects: finishing the parliament complex which had been started with funds from the Taiwanese government,a new National Stadium, a new university at Ndata, a five star hotel and presidential villas in Lilongwe, and the Karonga-Chitipa road.

Think about this for a moment.

These projects were being built at a time when Malawi was already facing energy problems with serious blackouts that were discouraging serious investors. You must then wonder why the DPP did not ask the Chinese at this time to assist first and foremost with projects to solve the electricity problems.

Solving electricity problems would in improve the lives of all Malawians in the short term, and in the long term have an even more positive impact in encouraging more investors to come to Malawi (One of the main cost issues at the Kayelekera mine, for example, that affected the operations of that project, was to do with the fact that ESCOM failed to supply sufficient electricity for operations there).

On the other hand, how many ordinary Malawians’ lives have been improved by the building of a Fifty million dollar football stadium in Lilongwe, or the building of presidential villas there?

The construction of white elephants should be seen asdangerous and unwelcome, and should not be praised at political rallies or in the media as we have seen party cadets do at the top of their voices. These projects are simply a redistribution aimed at influencing the outcomes of elections. The political motivation behind white elephants is clearly a DPP legacy though, and we must be as suspicious of such projects as the road currently being constructed in the Lilongwe old airport area, or Peter Mutharika’s promises to build even more football stadiums in the future, as we must be of the DPP’s apparently great idea to even start paying national football team players’ salaries from the public coffers!

The main reason why it is so difficult to privatise, much less reform, certain of Malawi’s public sector enterprises is because the central regime does not believe it is in its own political interests to reduce their size and scope. I do not need to present any evidence to demonstrate the common knowledge that in Malawi, even parastatals have traditionally been used as a way to distribute patronage.

DPP’s politics favour only a certain tribal group, as we all know.

When politicians represent specific tribal groups, a particular politician who values the welfare of the beneficiaries of a loss making project may find it optimal to keep operating it when a politician from a different group, who only values the revenues, cannot.

This explains why somewhat valueless projects like a new football stadium or a new university at Ndata can be politically attractive. They affect voting behaviour.

The trade-off is between efficient projects, which generate revenues and promote investment, and inefficient ones, which influence political outcomes. In this trade-off inefficient projects are more attractive to the DPP, particularly because the value of remaining in power is large.

By what tortured logic does Peter Mutharika justify building roads in Kasiya and promising football stadiums when the country desperately needs electricity and water services that actually work, and structures that improve government service delivery? By what logic do those that praise the DPP’s white elephant ideas justify this kind of foolishness?

Is remaining in power really more important to Peter Mutharika than giving Malawian homes reliable running water and electricity?

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Luka
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Luka

‘Instead of solving electricity problems, they built a football stadium.’ Similar arguments and complaints were common in Zambia fifty years ago. ‘Should we spend money on prestige projects like the construction of Mulungushi Hall, or should we instal a water-pump in every village and ensure that every citizen has ready access to clean water?’ In the end, it was decided that national prestige was very important and could be boosted quickly and conveniently by spending money in one small part of the country – the capital. The provision of safe water for all would be a long-term project, and would… Read more »

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

Construction of the football stadium was happening concurrently with the many energy capacity building projects including Nkula B, Kapichila, Zambia Project, Genset Project etc. It is not as if the whole lot of government projects stopped while the stadium was being built. Why don’t we talk instead of the many roads that have been built? rehabilitated? University bult? Port built? Technical colleges? Why don’t we talk instead of the numerous investors who have opened input substitution industries. Can we talk of the success in HDI? Theodore Roosevelt summarized it all “It is not the critic who counts; not the man… Read more »

Luka
Guest
Luka

Most people would agree with Roosevelt. However, some might argue that the present government shows very little evidence of valiant striving, great enthusiasm, or great devotion, but plenty of evidence of stumbling, erring, coming short, and failing.

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

kkkkkkkkkk I like your spirit! I will not argue more, we have both won 🙂

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

No problem with ‘some’ making that argument. The majority know the truth

Luka
Guest
Luka

Sadly, the vast majority of us are so isolated from the current political discourse that we are not even aware of the argument. More than 80% of us live in rural areas and exist in the minds of politicians only before elections. Currently, the rural poor are being targeted by all of the political parties, each one saying whatever they think will get them elected.

The truth is a stranger who is rarely encountered by the majority.

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

Mind you, you are entitled to be a politician as well. If you think you are that capable to deliver on your vision the door is open for you. Since you love quotes, Plato said “One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is to be governed by your inferiors.” May be it’s your time to serve Malawi!

Luka
Guest
Luka

kikikikiki – I am far too old. I am only ten years younger than the incumbent.

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

Kkkk…. Well… I might be less than half your age!! There is this growing misconception in Africa that politics is for the young only… If you check the age profile for the U S senate you will be shocked how many there are in their 80s, 70s, 60s… Infact being less than 50 is something like an outlier!! We need your Wisdom sir!!!

Luka
Guest
Luka

Mr Ntata asks: ‘By what tortured logic does Peter Mutharika justify . . . promising football stadiums when the country desperately needs electricity . . . .’

It is the same logic that propped up the Roman Empire: ‘Panem et circenses’ – ‘Bread and circuses’. In Malawi, it has been slightly adapted and applied as ‘Polenta et stadia’ – sustenance and entertainment provided by the government to appease public discontent.

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

It’s not a tortured logic. He has promised electricity, and football stadiums…. and industry, and good health.. and education… and technical colleges… and buy malawi. Let’s not be narrow minded. We are the first ones to put blame on the same government when our national team fails to perfom. Yet we are the ones talking nonsense against the very same amenities which would develop that team.

The president is in charge of so many aspects of the country… Not just your narrow minded view

Luka
Guest
Luka

If promises were provender, we should all wax fat between now and May. Alas, they are no more sustaining than early morning mist.

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

It’s tortured logic to think all our problems can be solved in one day, that all our wishes can come true in one day. It didn’t happen in Rome! (Rome was not built in one day)

The tenure for presidency is only 5 years! May I ask the number of achievements you have made on your life in the last five years? Did you have any constraints?

Luka
Guest
Luka

Regrettably, modesty constrains me. I am not a politician.

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

Hahaha! I see. We both know the truth. You had so many wishes you didn’t fulfill!

Luka
Guest
Luka

I don’t think this is a line of discourse that deserves to be followed. Upon reflection, you may consider it to be beneath you.

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

Reflected. Case closed. Due apologies if it was offensive.

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

“One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is to be governed by your enferors” – Plato

Patak2010
Guest
Patak2010

Mr Common sense, a poor country like malawi needs to prioritise projects with the aim of achieving long term prosperity. I don’t see any evidence of such practises in the guys running the country. Mr Ntata is spot on. It’s all about pointables which ultimately influence votes. Such a view to running a poor country like ours is counterproductive and perpetuates poverty. We need to seriously think about the relationship between investing in critical areas so that our country can start becoming more future-proof and more attractive to investment. If we continue to take a narrow of political self-preservation, we… Read more »

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

“Pointables” are being balanced with the “unpointables”. It happens all over the world. The government is already undertaking “unpointable” projects which will have a long term positive impact for the nation: Skills development program, Input substitution through the buy Malawi, Roads/Infrastructure, energy restructuring, incentives for FDI just to name a few. Fruits for these projects will continue to come even after the tenure of the incumbent ends.

Mind you, these “Unpointable” projects are actually “Pointables” to the enlightened mind. The unenlightened will only see the “Pointables” by their nature.

Luka
Guest
Luka

It is also ‘tortured logic’ to suggest that anyone thinks that “all our problems can be solved in one day, or that all our wishes can come true in one day.”

This is an example of the logical fallacy known as the ‘Strawman’, where a false statement of the opponent’s position is presented, then knocked down.

Luka
Guest
Luka

In his ‘Agamemnon’, Aeschylus was the first of many to state that ‘In war, truth is the first casualty.’ What has been said of war could also be said of politics. After all, (to stand von Clausewitz on his head), politics is a mere continuation of war by other means, However, at election time, it is logic that is massacred.

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

You are obviously an academic… Full of knowledge…

I will start with a quote from confucius … “The essence of knowledge is having it to apply it not having it to confess your ignorance”

Apply your knowledge to the issues on the ground. Understand your environment, the opportunities and challenges thereof. Inspire hope not endless criticism.

… and finish with a quote from from Confucius as well. “He who blames others has a long way to go on his journey. He who blames himself is halfway there. He who blames no one has arrived!”

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

Now that we have agreed all our problems will not be solved in one day, let’s let the government prioritize critical projects and not cry at the top of our lungs for petty issue like water leakage.

Hlabezulu Ngonoonda
Guest
Hlabezulu Ngonoonda

Some one may have tampered with the roof of the airport while installing satellite dishes. Kamuzu never compromised on quality. Since that airport was opened in 1983 or there about, such a flooding has never happened. With onset of the rainy season the roof required some maintenance but that was not done. In European countries such as Norway or Denmark or Scotland, it is a requirement to effect minor repairs or check roofs in readiness for winter.

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

Nonetheless we have still seen effects of natural disasters in these developed nations. Truth be told, we can do all the preventative measures against disasters but one day they will catch up with us!

Njuki
Guest
Njuki

Bwana Ntata ndimakunyadilani pitilizani kulemba chifukwa mumaoneka kuti zikoli mumalikonda zosanzika zija sindikugwilizana nazo kkikkkkk

Kholowa
Guest
Kholowa

Natural disaster yomweyo tiye nazoni kkkkkkkkk! Anthu okonda ma k50. Ife we dont think or invest for a generation to come. Why building more when we cannot afford even 2? DEVELOPMENT UNDER DPP

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

inu mmakonda ma K20? Mulibe agenda. Criticism basi.

Ken Phiri
Guest
Ken Phiri

Kodi mesa munatsazika???

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

Natural disasters can happen anywhere. It’s just unfortunate that they affected the airport but in all fairness there is an extent to which you can control natural disasters

chimanga Chaponda
Guest

A natural disaster affecting only one place? hahahahahha

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

If you think so. I know so many places which were affected in Lilongwe. This one attracted attention because of it’s importance. Strong winds plus heavy rains damage property all around the world the U S inclusive.

Stupid
Guest
Stupid

All these comments are stupid people , if we can go into your homes you’re very poor people. You think like idiots Munthu wolrmba nkhani sakulemba ngati wa MCP UDF PP or UTM wakhala pakati kukhudzidwa ndi Stupid DPP party for family like company . Akupanfa profit ontop of us but not changing your lives . Wake up Malawians lets stop stupid thinking and fix our country. These politicians more especially DPP akutitengera kuntoso . Some of these people 2019 we need hold the accountable for their past mistakes possibly ARREST THEM WE NEED TO ARREST THEM. CONTACT YA AIRPORT… Read more »

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

True sound of a dunderhead. Incoherent sentences. Do you know the meaning of a natural disaster? What does that have to do with maintenance? Have you not seen that KIA is already under facelift? or have you ever been to an airport before? Shame.

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

kuipa koonela airport pa whatsapp clip. shame.

ferguson
Guest
ferguson

Did you guys watch CNN when they were broadcasting about JFK , The worlds busiest Airport leaking after heavy rains and that they suspended flights?

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

UBUTUTU wachuluka pa nyasaland. sangazitsate

Patak2010
Guest
Patak2010

I think you are an asshole and writing nonsense. We need a proper discussion about challenges being inflicted on malawians by your DPP masters. Go to hell.

Common Sense
Guest
Common Sense

Sorry I am not good at this kind of language. Very sorry bro.

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