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Economic dilemma, Pac, Livingstonia

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In economic activities, usually there are tradeoffs or opportunity costs. To do one thing, you must sacrifice something else. Take, for example, one of the macroeconomic problems, the budget deficit.

Reduction in the deficit may, of course, stimulate private investment by easing the crowding out of private investors that goes with government borrowing. But private investors may lead to much growth only if certain measures are used to reduce the deficit. Has the deficit been reduced by increases in taxes so as to raise extra revenues rather than by borrowing? If you raise taxes you stifle private incentive to invest. Has government reduced expenditure? If so, on what? Highway repairs, subsidies on farm inputs? If so, this is likely to have negative impacts on growth.

The two years of food shortages have been replaced by bumper harvests this year. The Lord be thanked. But not everybody is happy. During food shortages, prices skyrocketed, consumers and buyers yelled and gnashed their teeth but for farmers that was the period of good business. What were too high prices to buyers were good prices to farmers and middleman.

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The bumper harvest has brought with it rock bottom prices for maize and now it is the farmers who are in agony. Unscrupulous private traders are practising the old slogan; buy cheap so as to sell dear later on. Spokespersons of farmers are requesting the government to lift the ban on export of maize to enable them to sell their produce in markets abroad. The government has dug its heels, as it recalls that opportunistic exports of this sort have in the past been followed by worse food shortages. Weather in this era of climate change is as fickle as a street woman.

However, government has an obligation towards farmers. It has been subsidising some of their inputs so as to encourage them to grow maize. But if farmers suffer losses, they will lose the incentive to repeat the harvest next season by turning their hectares to crops that will pay other types of economic activities. Maize shortage will recur. This is not imaginary; it has happened in the past.

No country in the world, h o w e v e r industrialised, h a s i g n o r e d interests of its agriculture sector. Not in the United States, not in France, just to give two examples. Economic advisers from these countries have often advised governments of developing countries to refrain from subsidies of all sorts, yet their own countries prop agriculture prices by a variety of measures. The farmer there is a powerful lobbyist, and he gets a hearing. Our government should borrow the tactics used there, whenever possible, to ensure farmers get fair rewards for their efforts.

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Once more, the government is at loggerheads with the Public Affairs Committee (Pac) which apparently is impatient with the pace and effectiveness of the President’s performance. If it is true that Pac has given the President a conditional ultimatum to resign if he does not do something then this is unfortunate.

The late Bingu wa Mutharika was similarly addressed and before the threat could be implemented he died of heart failure. There are some people who think the two events had to do with each other.

By and large, giving presidents ultimatums is rudeness and disrespect for the high office. He was in the year 2014 elected to serve five years. Why disrupt his programme?

What Malawi has enjoyed the past 53 years has been political stability which is an indispensable condition for economic development. When a president is forced to resign, usually violence erupts, started by the losers. Patience and persistence lead to success in any field including economic development, eradication of poverty and corruption.

Malawi is not one of the easiest countries to develop. The British ruled it for 73 years while calling it the Cinderella of their empire. When they left, Nyasaland, as it was then called, was one of the poorest countries in the world. President Hastings Kamuzu Banda ruled Malawi for 30 years. Though he often boasted that he had transformed Malawi beyond recognition, when he quit office in 1994 60 percent of the Malawi population was living below the international poverty line. Twenty-three years have passed since the multiparty era was restored, a lot has been done, universities have sprung up everywhere, the literacy rate has increased but overall Malawi remains poor country. Let us keep on forging ahead but we must get out of our vocabulary the language of threats both on the opposition and government side. We must keep on learning from the achievers of the world such as the Tigers of the Far East. There is no royal or sacerdotal road to success.

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The rupture within the Livingstonia governing body is more worrying than surprising. Worrying because previous disputes with Nkhoma Synod over spheres of operation and within Livingstonia Synod itself in Lilongwe ended in what now appears as permanent damage.

One of the causes of the dispute in the Livingstonia Synod is the fact that some of its clergy take too much interest in politics. For politicians, humility is a cowardly word. Practising Christians heed Christ’s command, ‘Don’t judge’— which means do not be a fault-finder, why not? Because it is easier to see a beam in other fellow’s eye than to see a speck of dust in your own. Members of the Livingstonia Synod and well-wishers should pray that the disputes should end amicably. Christ commanded; ‘As I loved you so much, love one another’ [usange mukutinkhana banthu bakuzukuma]. If you hate one another people get surprised.

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