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Envoy urges self-reliance

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Japanese Ambassador to Malawi, Shuichiro Nishioka, has reached the end of his tour of duty in the country and will soon be leaving for home. ALICK PONJE caught up with the envoy to get insights of his stay in the country, particularly, his view of Malawi’s governance and his message as far as economic freedom is concerned.

Your Excellency, you have reached the end of your tour of duty in Malawi. When you were coming here, you obviously had high expectations. Have they been met?

I had never been to Malawi before coming here as ambassador. But from the research that I had done, I had an image of Malawi as a country that is working hard to develop but has a lot of challenges. But the people living in Malawi are warm-hearted and survivors. I see so many Japanese volunteers already working in Malawi. I experienced the warm-heartedness of the people of Malawi right at the airport. However, as I settled in, I also encountered various challenges including power outages and water problems in addition to adverse effects of climate change such as floods and droughts which resulted in severe food crises. That means my immediate observation was that it is absolutely necessary for Malawi t o implement strong policies and set up relevant structures to respond to such challenges.

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During the time that you have been here, I have seen the governments of Malawi and Japan signing several partnerships to do with development. In terms of projects that Japan is supporting, particularly during your tenure of office, which one s stand out ?

Every project that we have implemented is significant despite its magnitude. But I would like to highlight just a few. This year, we handed over the Masauko Chipembere Highway in Blantyre whose construction was implemented in three phases from 2008 to 2015. The construction was aimed at easing congestion and boosting infrastructure networking. The highway is important as it connects Blantyre CBD [Central Business District] and Limbe. It is my sincere hope that this new road will, among many other benefits, stimulate economic growth through improved transport network. We have also implemented various projects, especially in the education sector during my time. One of the highlights is the rehabilitation of selected community day secondary schools (CDSSs) which has facilitated the construction of facilities like classrooms and administration blocks, libraries, laboratories, girls’ hostels and s t a ff houses.

In 2012, we implemented the second phase of the project and a total of s ix CDSSs  throughout the country were rehabilitated. Actually, we handed them over in 2014. Now we are implementing the third phase of the project, which means 11 secondary schools will benefit and we hope handover will be possible early next year.

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Another project I can highlight in the education sector is the construction of Nalikule Teachers Training College for secondary school teachers in Lilongwe to promote quality education for secondary school teachers. The college is expected to have an annual intake of 180 student teachers as it has completely fully equipped laboratories in addition to having been affiliated to secondary schools for practical purposes. I commend the Malawi government for prioritising the education sector by implementing various measures and policies to promote education for all.

Lastly, but not least, I want to highlight the energy sector, where we handed over the dredging equipment to Escom this year to address the problem of siltation in the Shire River. The equipment will enhance Escom’s capacity to control the accumulation of aquatic weeds and sand, which obstruct power generation at the Nkula Hydro Power Station. It is our sincere hope that this project will help to reduce the power interruption caused by siltation.

As diplomats, you have an opportunity to review a country’s governance style. What is your take on Malawi’s governance and corruption?

Governance and corruption are important issues that need to be tackled with diligence and objectivity. The two are synonymous and unfortunately increase hidden costs for the government and society. That means corruption is not cheap. Therefore, recent incidents of mismanagement of public funds and reports of stalled and delayed projects are worrisome and need immediate attention because such setbacks prevent a country’s development and they counter efforts to improve Malawi’s competitiveness in the global arena. So, in a sense, successful prosecution of some of the criminals in the infamous Cashgate scandal is, therefore, a welcome development but like I have always stressed, prosecution should be objective and at all levels.

The withdrawal of budgetary support by Malawi’s traditional donors has seen the country struggling with budget deficits. Should the country start looking towards the East so that countries like Japan can come in to support the budget?

At this point, we have no plans to provide budgetary support to Malawi. This is the style of Japanese cooperation historically. We have never participated in the group of donors who supported the budget of Malawi. However, the government of Japan commits to continuing with support to the socio-economic development of Malawi with the grant aid and technical cooperation assistance in various sectors such as education, energy, agriculture and health and water and irrigation and transport. We are supporting many sectors through these kinds of grants.

During your tour of duty in Malawi, what did you like most about the country and what are your biggest regrets.

As I leave, I take with me various experiences of a rich Malawi culture and friendly people. Malawi is a beautiful country with a beautiful lake and full of biodiversity. It is a country rich in natural resources including fertile land for farming and has a lot of potential to boost the economy from the agriculture sector and also the tourism sector.

I sincerely regret that time has flown by and that my tour of duty has ended so quickly. I will miss several things about Malawi including my interaction with various warm-hearted people, especially Malawians with whom I have shared the so-cal led joys and sorrows in the country. It is a pity that I will miss these people. Through the interactions, I learnt a lot of things that have significantly enhanced my knowledge.

Your last words, Your Excellency.

I wish to stress that all the plans for a prosperous and secure future for Malawi relies on the response and determination of the people of Malawi. Borrowing a leaf from Japan, I can assure you that hard work, patriotism, integrity, self-reliance and innovation are the key pillars that will encourage rapid socio-economic development. I cannot, therefore, emphasise the importance of self-reliance and working diligently with what is available on the ground instead of always relying on handouts or outside help to initiate change. Last, but not least, the importance of being innovative while r e lying on one’s strength and abilities is important. To sum it up, I quote: be the change you want to see. That is my message to Malawi.

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