President Peter Mutharika and Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe might be buddies, a relationship that goes back to their time together at Dedza Government Secondary School in the 1950s, long before most of us were born.
But the rate at which the economic management of this nation is going, I, as a Malawian, feel it is time Mutharika bit the bullet and accepted that his long time economic wizard has lost the Midas he used to have.
The President should accept, on humanitarian grounds, that he cannot be sending Gondwe to Parliament as Finance Minister to be sparring with young brilliant minds such as Kusamba Dzonzi or Sosten Gwengwe. It is not a contest at all. He is past it.
Besides, there is utter chaos in the economic management of this country and Gondwe embodies it all.
Where in the world do you factor figures into the budget based on some loose promise that somebody will give you money?
Yet this is precisely what Gondwe did by factoring K60 billion in the hope that the European Union will come to the party and give him budgetary support.
Well, it turns out that, as we speak, negotiations are going on and Brussels has not disbursed the needed cash to poor suffering Malawi.
Result? Gondwe’s budget is off tangent. This is compounded by the fact that the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) under-collected from distressed taxpayers as well as Gondwe’s unilateral decision backed by Cabinet to throw K45 billion at perennial loss-making Admarc.
All this sums up to one thing and it is that while Gondwe’s shopping list is growing by day, he does not have the money to fund it.
Any sensible Minister of Finance would rise to the occasion and cut wastage in expenditure in the most fundamental way.
On the contrary, Gondwe’s wielding of the axe is very minimal and unconvincing.
He merely glossed over the problem of the government appetite for expenditure, with a view to window dress the fact that he did all he could to protect the extravagance of the Executive, at the expense of social service delivery to Malawians.
Poor Malawians will continue experiencing shortages in hospitals and schools, among other places, as Gondwe tries to close the K30 billion gaping hole in his budget while the Executive continues to live in their own world of opulence to satisfy their insatiable appetite for luxuries at the expense of long suffering Malawians.
Gondwe says he will get the 10 percent to cover his deficit by cutting travel and fuel allowances in government.
But we can see through the lie because Gondwe’s prescription was devoid of details.
By how much has he reduced on fuel allowances and for who? Is it to the Presidency or ministers? Is it senior civil servants or he means hospitals or schools? What about first class travel? All he said was that some officials that were travelling first class at poor people’s expense will stop doing so.
But who are these officials and where is the Circular ordering the stop because, as far as we know, first class travel is rampant and it is all senior officials ranging from the Presidency down to senior civil servants as well as other State entities?
Gondwe knows where he should wield his axe but he does not have the courage to do so. It is an open secret that the Public Service is bloated and the Presidency has played a major role in it.
With a fully fledged Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), one wonders how many special assistants the President is going to have and how they serve Malawians, apart from the President himself.
And is there a cap on the number of assistants the President is allowed to have as he is still racking them up on daily basis? They range from mundane ones such as special assistant on unity to special assistant on women affairs (the latest addition to reward Brown Mpinganjira’s loyal follower Clara Makungwa).
We all know the President does not need these assistants but merely appoints them to reward loyalists, most of them are failures at elections.
These are the things that Gondwe should be dealing with to control expenditure as they are a huge drain on taxpayers’ money but he will not because he lacks the courage to do so. Instead, he will leave the Presidency alone and cut funding for the poor people to hospitals and schools.
One patriotic Malawian told me it is possible to balance the national budget within two years by simply taking hard decisions that will cut wastage in government. Is there any reason, for example, why everybody in government cannot travel economy class and save billions of taxpayers’ money?
Is there any need why Cabinet ministers should draw 1000 litres of fuel per month as if they are salesmen of Maluwa soap and need to travel the length and breadth of this country in a van?
Our revenue and expenditure in the budget can balance but all it needs is a super patriotic Malawian, both in the Presidency and Treasury, to take the brave but right decisions.
It needs someone who will understand the cash cow—private sector—and will engage it in meaningful dialogue so that it performs and pays tax on time.
Unfortunately, that man is not Gondwe. He is past it. This is nothing personal but the Finance Minister should be spending time telling fireside stories to his grand children, and not managing our economy.
The chaos should not be a surprise to any Malawian.
Everything has an end.
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