On January 17, a few Malawians took to the streets to demonstrate against the Dr. JB administration. In their perception, the present government had failed to address the effects of the devaluation and floatation of the Kwacha. The demonstrators, led by the Consumers Association of Malawi (CAMA) Executive Director, John Kapito, peacefully demonstrated in Malawi’s major cities and perhaps contradictory to expectations, the government allowed democracy to prevail by not banning the demonstration, but allowing the citizens to exercise their democratic right to hold peaceful demonstration against government at any time they felt like doing so.
In their 7-point petition, the demonstrators gave the government 21 days to address their concerns and the challenges that the country is facing. As a listening government, which openly admits that all is not well with our economy at present and is committed to addressing the challenges, it should legitimately be expected that all citizens would exercise patience.
There is no quick fix in matters of this nature. It should be remembered that from the time the current administration ascended to power, the commitment to turn things around for the common good, was sounded. A statement to that effect was made at the out-set by Her Excellency herself. It is therefore source of chagrin and rather disheartening to hear from certain quarters continuing criticisms pertaining to quick-fix expectations up to now.
It would not be wrong, in the sane minds many, to conclude that there appears to be some political neurosis, meaning that there are some people among us who maybe slightly out of tune (as the Spanish say: desafinado) out of perhaps a rational envy and malice but feigning innocence and acting as real representatives of the people’s voice.
It is true, most Malawians are suffering the effects of the devaluation and inflation of the kwacha; it is true life is getting harder at each passing day; it is true the automatic fuel pricing which the JB administration adopted is hitting hard on Malawians; it is true that our salaries are ridiculous to live in the world of escalating prices of basic life commodities. But remember before April 7, 2012, we had a government that despite calls and concerns that Malawi is facing doom, it pretended that all is well and never accepted failure and that the economy was collapsing. But here we have a listening government which is all the time there waiting to take note of our concerns and draw out measures to address such concerns.
Remember that time, when we had Dr. Hetherwick, the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) spokesperson, defending all the clear sins and failure of the government without any sense of regret and shame.
And today, here is Moses Kunkuyu, Minister of Information and Civic Education and government’s spokesperson, communicating to us everything that this government acknowledges of that Malawians are suffering and that important measures are being put in place to help us. And don’t pretend to forgot how disastrous and acute the fuel shortage was during Bingu wa Mutharika’s era. Today, we just have to wait for the kwacha to stabilize by December as Goodall Gondwe promises in ERP (Economic Recovery Plan) so that the fuel prices stabilize while now we have it all abundance. And so when President Joyce Banda says that “we have passed the dangerous zone and we are just about to realize our destiny” let us listen with patience and not with angry tones and we should not be quick to think that any government that will take over will provide all what we need just in a period of just few months, like that, we will be cheating ourselves.
In a clear sense of the commitment to heal the economy, President Banda, appointed and hired the services of an accomplished economist, Goodall Gondwe as Minister of Economic Planning and Development. As experience tells us, Goodall has never failed, he never fails and he will never fail. When he was Finance Minister in the Bingu wa Mutharika administration, before Bingu passed on, Gondwe proved that he is Goodall. The economy was growing at an average unprecedented rate of 7.5 percent. The Malawi economy was really growing under Goodall’s stewardship.
And this time, Goodall is here again. He has on his shoulders the (ERP), which the Joyce Banda administration earlier adopted as the only reasonable path to mending Malawi’s collapsed economy. But time is of the essence. The Romans of days gone by once stated (tempus fugit) time flies. So, is Goodall here for nothing? Should Malawians, therefore, not give him and the government the benefit of the doubt?
Malawians need patience. This would not be the kind of patience that the late Mutharika, asked us to adopt as a virtue when he called on us to persevere and accept the ill-fated Zero-deficit budget as the only path to economic recovery and self-sufficiency. It would be recalled that the late Bingu told us (falsely) to hold our breath and wait for two years to see the positive results from the Zero-deficit budget.
However, it was proved in April 2012 that the path the country was on at that time was suicidal. Accordingly, a reversal had to be effected and it was done to avoid complete collapse of the economy. The late Bingu’s tricks involving manipulations with a little help from his friends in the Ministry of Finance and the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) were uncovered for all to see. The patience that Dr. Joyce Banda’s administration seeks from Malawians is tangible and sustainable. Malawians are not lead into the kind of hypnosis and falsehood which existed in the past. Optimism is the key as we look to the future with hope.
And Gondwe is not just any other economist as we have seen above. He has a record of being a reputable economist who has worked with the African Development Bank (AfDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and prior to those positions Gondwe served the government of Malawi in leading roles in the Ministry of Finance and the Reserve Bank of Malawi. He was also World Bank’s special economic advisor to former President Dr. Bakili Muluzi. The man went around the globe lecturing, putting forward tough economic measures to various countries to turn around their economies.
The man seems to possess abundant economic models to share with whoever requires solutions to economic crises. And when he talks economic theories, he often punctuates his thoughts to ensure the production of effective and precise vocabulary of an accomplished economist that either threatens doom or gives hope. In short, he is thorough!
In reference to the ERP Gondwe emphasized: “We cannot have another plan apart from the one already on the table…If changes need to be made, then the president has given me wider latitude to discuss with my colleagues and go up to her for the changes. My responsibility is to ensure that what has been agreed is implemented. I come in at a time when we need results. We have to somehow reduce inflation and commodity prices need to go down.” He appears to confidently foreseen the success of the ERP. He states that “we are on track to recovery from the economic wounds, the DPP regime, ironically, proudly inflicted on us.”
And when Goodall reaffirmed the viability of the ERP at a news conference he held recently at Capital Hill offices in Lilongwe reacting to comments made by some economic commentators, who during a public debate organized by the Economics Association of Malawi(Ecama) on January 25, argued that it is unrealistic that the economy could recover in 18 months, beginning April last year that, “expecting benefits to commence within 18 months is not the same as saying that the ERP will be implemented within 18 months.” It appears that there is truth and sense in what Goodall said. Obviously, what the other half-baked economists stated was a terminological inexactitude. The two scenarios ….ERP results commencing in 18months and being implemented in 18months… are two different things. That is why it is concluded that an inexactitude was committed… in other words there was definitely a misinterpretation.
During the Mutharika regime, most Malawians had predicted that Goodall would permanently hold the Finance portfolio. Those who thought so, ended up in a shock of their life time, when Goodall was not reappointed to his job, on Bingu’s victory for the second term. He was appointed Minister of Local Government and Rural Development instead.
Malawians now must have all the reason to be patient with this government as it implements the priorities in the ERP and reach targets. As President Banda said in Brussels very clearly that the ERP may start bearing fruits in 18-month period from the time it was launched, we have to wait for that time, next December and see what results the ERP produces. If December collapses without us receiving any tangible results, then even the government will have no excuse to stop Malawians from going to the streets or stage civil service stay aways. When that time comes, Malawians will have to take this government to task for its false, unfulfilled, empty promises as promise is a credit.
As for now, the poor farmer in the village, the wretched down-trodden factory workers, all of us, are waiting for Goodall Gondwe’s promise and we hope he will not to lead us into temptation but will deliver us evil.
*This article first appeared in The Enquirer weekly newspaper of Malawi, Vol.16. No 4- February 15-22.
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