By Lewis Msasa, A Contributor:
Over two months ago several people mostly the youth were injured in a stampede that ensued after thousands of job-seekers pushed their way into a hall at Katoto Secondary School in Mzuzu where interviews for recruitment of Health Assistants were being conducted.
Thank God no lives were lost during the stampede.
The incident in Mzuzu is a reflection of the seriousness of unemployment in Malawi, especially among the youth.
According to the International Labour Organisaton (ILO), Malawi has a youthful population where three in every four people are aged below 35 years. The 2018 National Statistical Office (NSO) Malawi Population and Housing Report, on the other hand, estimate that out of the labour force of 6,614,065 persons, 5,389,463 (81.5 percent) were employed and 1,224,602 (18.5 percent) were unemployed.
Realising this, the Tonse Alliance Government decided to tackle this problem head on by promising to create one million jobs within 12 months as part of its agenda.
However, some schools of thought played this down as one of those campaign promises wondering where in the world could any government create one million jobs considering the prevailing circumstances.
Currently, the world is sailing through serious economic turbulence in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic which has resulted into most business entities collapsing or trimming workforce, rendering millions jobless.
But Labour Minister, Ken Kandodo is optimistic that creation of one million jobs is possible. He says the task looked impossible at the beginning but after weeks of consultations, he believes it is possible to create one million jobs as long as there are enablers.
“We agreed to consult widely to seek wisdom from both private and public sectors and through these consultations we now know which sectors are capable of creating jobs. Jobs are created from various sectors, that is, government by filling existing vacancies, companies, financial , agriculture and manufacturing sector, SMEs and the rest of the players.
“We have indeed noted that Covid-19 has depressed the economy so much that one might think this is not the right time to pursue this task but we are doing this with a positive mind knowing that the pandemic would one day be over and things will go back to normal,” Kandodo said during a virtual meeting he held recently with large companies from Central Region.
He said the role of his ministry is to ensure that one million jobs are created and that once this is achieved the economy can continue generating even more jobs.
A number of stakeholders agree with Kandodo that Malawi has so many unexploited opportunities in various sectors for creation of jobs.
Acting Chief Executive Officer of Admarc, Felix Jumbe, agrees with Kandodo that it is possible to create a million jobs as long as there is an enabling environment coupled with relevant policy reviews. He says Admarc as a state-run produce trader is keen to accelerate job creation and that it intends to take its central role in the country’s economic activities.
“Admarc is a hub of agricultural economic activities. For instance, when we provide market for all smallholder farmers who are about 4.2 million, we are providing employment and income to millions. As government count on us,” Jumbe assured the minister when he visited Admarc recently as part of consultations.
The consultations have seen the minister meeting various players in the economy such as government ministries and departments (MDAs), the financial , agriculture , manufacturing sectors, regulators and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
According to Ministry of Labour, Director of Planning, Macleod Muyepa, the ministry has also developed a data collection tool which is being used to collect baseline data to have an indication of available jobs on the labour market and projections on how many jobs could be created by both private and public sector.
Lusubilo Chakaniza, Chief Executive Officer for Dwangwa-based EthCo is upbeat about this job creation initiative, saying she is happy that both private and public sectors are part of the consultative process.
During the minister’s visit to Ethco, Chakaniza outlined strategies that her company is implementing and what her company expects from government in order to contribute to the one million jobs creation strategy of the Tonse Alliance Government.
She says her company has made deliberate effort to train employees on the job and that EthCo’s approach to human resources utilization is one that focusses on empowering and multiskilling people.
“There is, therefore, a potential to increase EthCo’s permanent workforce to around 150 employees and a further 500 employees as contractors/ Seasonal or casual workers, “she says.
She, however, calls upon government to come up with a good, robust and accredited skills training programmes that can be recognised internationally.
But Chakaniza should not spend sleepless nights over this because government’s regulatory body on skills development, Technical Entrepreneurial and Vocational and Education training Authority (Teveta) has been working on developing modalities aimed at upskilling the workforce to ensure that it is competitive both at national and international level. According to Executive Director, Wilson Makulumiza Nkhoma his organization has introduced Productivity Enhancement Programme (PEP) aimed at enhancing productivity in both public and private sector.
“We believe that the more productive companies are the more goods they will produce hence the more people they will employ. We constantly engage the industry extensively to identity the appropriate skills needs in line with the technological advancement in the global manufacturing sector.
“We also, among others, review our curriculum periodically in consultation with the industry in order to respond to the same,” Makulumiza Nkhoma says.
The labour minister who is usually accompanied by his deputy Vera Kamtukule has also met (SME’s) in order to get their views and collect data which will guide government in determining the number of jobs that could be created through SME’s. While assuring the minister about prospects of more jobs in SMEs , the consultations also accorded them an opportunity to empty their chest with regards to the challenges being faced in the sector.
Among other challenges, the captains in the SME allege that the sector is chocked by corruption and delay by some government agencies to certify their products for export. James Chiutsi, Executive Secretary for Chamber of Small and Medium Businesses says for SME’s to create more jobs they need financial support from government.
“Our members have numerous challenges, but we are, however, encouraged that issues of finances and skills development for our members is being looked into by government,” says Chiutsi.
The SMEs are also requesting protection from government from large companies. They have since urged government to create a conducing environment for SMEs to thrive by among other formulating and enforcing legislations to promote the growth of the sector. But, Wickly Mhango Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industries (MCCCI), Councilor in Mzuzu, advises government to closely collaborate with private sector in formulation and implementing regulations .
“The duty of government is to make regulations, policies and direct the industries whom the regulations are meant for . But it is free for all and no one is implementing those regulations and no one is checking them,” Mhango claims.
According to the Labour minister, after the consultations the qualitative and quantitative data will be analysed by a team of experts. Thereafter, he says, a large group of stakeholder drawn from those consulted will be called to a validation meeting to confirm the findings before coming up with a strategy.
The Minister discloses that government plans to launch the Strategy end September or early October this year and that a Monitoring and Evaluation will be designed to monitor implementation of the strategy.
“The other part is that as a ministry we believe that we have to make it easier for job seekers to access vacancies. We have, therefore, planned to introduce job centres in major cities of Lilongwe, Blantyre, Zomba and Mzuzu and in five Municipalities of Mangochi, Karonga, Kasungu, Luchenza and Thyolo in the first phase,” says Kandodo.
He says through the job centres, job seekers will be able to access information from employers as well as register so that employers will be able to match skills with available jobs.
The consultative meetings have been hailed by various stakeholders who feel this has accorded them an opportunity to weigh in on the road map hence ensuring ownership of the job creation strategy.
MCCCI, Director of Business Environment and Policy Dialogue Madalitso Mandiwa Kazembe, consider the consultative meetings as a confidence building strategy but she asks government to think of providing incentives to the private sector to enhance job creation.
“Creation of a conducive environment will encourage growth of the economy and widen tax base. But we believe that during this Covid-19 pandemic period it might be worthwhile to consider various tax relief measures so that companies should not be pushed out of business”, she says.
The minister has since promised to take up these issues raised during the consultative meetings with line ministers.
However, the journey towards jobs towards creation of one million jobs may be frustrated if Malawians do not control their insatiable appetite for foreign goods and services which in most instances has squeezed local companies out of business leading to job losses locally.
This is the reason why Kondwani Namchukwa, Director of a local company, Fisd Group Limited Company urges the current government to operationalize the Buy Malawi Strategy which he believes could accelerate job creation.
The Buy Malawi Strategy is a government of Malawi programme that was launched on 18th March, 2016. And it was designed to promote consumption of locally produced goods and services. The essence of the programme is to change mindset and negative perceptions towards locally produced products in Malawi.
Unfortunately, to date the strategy seems to have gone off track if Kandodo’s sentiments are anything to go by. He has since lamented over the tendency of some individuals and companies to prefer foreign goods and services over locally made goods and services.
“By not buying Malawi products, the country has been indirectly exporting jobs. Let us use import substitution seriously.
“We are importing goods and services which could be obtained within Malawi. We should buy locally produced goods and by doing so we will be creating jobs,” he observes.
But regardless of whatever bottlenecks might be met on the journey, Kandodo still insists that creation of one million within 12 months is possible if the positive feedback that these consultative meetings have yielded over the past weeks is anything to go by.
“I am happy with the enthusiasm. What is coming out clearly out of these consultations is that the private sector, except for SMEs who require some support in form of loans, is not demanding money but is simply demanding policy reforms that could enhance job creation, ” Kandodo says.
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