Life is certainly tough for the ordinary man and you can therefore understand why there was too much expectation from Malawians when the 2021/22 national budget was being unpacked last week by Finance Minister Felix Mlusu. No doubt, many are still appreciative of the decision to maintain the K100,000 tax-free bracket, on whether the slight reduction of PAYE from 30 percent to 25 percent will pay tangible dividends or not, that we will see. There are a lot of Malawians on the waiting list who applied to be connected to the electricity grid several years ago and they, too, would not read much into the removal of the K17,500 connection fee.
I am so happy that our ‘dysfunctional’ city councils have been given some billions of kwacha; perhaps we can now see an improvement in city roads, landscape and general hygiene in surroundings.
What we, the plebians or indeed ordinary mortals, largely expected was to see more initiatives for the people that would directly help them escape from the pangs of the Covid-19 pandemic, whose effects were greatly felt in the first half of this year. Let us not fool ourselves; we are still in recovery mode and, therefore, that small-scale entrepreneur in Blantyre’s Ndirande Township or at Mchesi in Lilongwe is and continues to anticipate some sort of bail-out to keep themselves afloat.
Desperate times call for desperate measures; just like George Floyd called out “I can’t breathe” to that police officer in the United States before he breathed his last, most Malawians have experienced trying times in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and therefore any sort of relief comes in handy.
But here we are; it is still the ‘haves,’ and not the ‘have nots,’ that are harvesting more benefits from the financial blueprint; talk of the duty-free week and other privileges they have been accorded while the poor keep getting poorer.
It is not all bad, however, for the ordinary man because, aside from the bumper maize harvests the country is set to realise this season, Capital Hill has also set aside allocations for National Food Reserve Agency and Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation to buy the produce, which at least assures us that we might just ably nip in the bud any pockets of hunger in the society. Probably the only setback in recent years has been the delay by these two institutions to start purchasing the staple grain from farmers, which has given room to private traders, including vendors, to buy the maize for a song.
With the high cost of living, perhaps people are justified to expect just a little more push from Capital Hill though it is still every man for himself, just like the President put it the other day that we cannot expect him to be responsible for everyone’s day-to-day decisions. We are told to sustain a family of about six, one needs an average of K209,000 which is not small change for majority.
Though I am no Oliver Twist who, in that self-titled novel and movie, told Mr. Bumble ‘please master, I want some more’, I would be failing in my duty if, on behalf of the common man, I do not ask the finance minister for more once the window for revision arises or even in the next offering. Pa ground sipali bwino!
Do us proud
There certainly is no stopping iron lady Martha Chizuma, who is now the country’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Director General. Our dear Martha (let us just declare her a national treasure, yes? No?) who, until lately, was the country’s Ombudsman has apparently smoked out some individuals at Tobacco Commission and Blantyre Water Board in two of her reports, bordering on irregular recruitment and abuse of office at these two institutions. I will not get into the nitty-gritty but all I can say is well done for the outstanding service in the role of Ombudsman.
It does not require rocket science for one to deduce that this woman is far ahead of the game and for those causing a mess in various institutions, you better watch out! Chizuma has certainly left boots too big to fill at the office of the Ombudsman and let us only hope that the next Ombudsman will equally excel.
There is still more rot in our parastatals and mainstream public service and I can only hope that Madam Chizuma will continue from where she left off in her previous role at the new office. Much as the specifics and mode of operation might be different, I believe, this time, we are going to see a whole different ball game in as far as the running of the ACB and handling of cases is concerned.
Go do us proud!
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).