Sometimes I am tempted to think that the current crop of Members of Parliament (MPs) is the best that the country has had since the onset of multiparty democracy. Yes the 1994-1999 Parliament pooled together some of the best political brains only comparable to the pre-1964 Cabinet Crisis. But the first Parliament of the second republic was plagued by partisan politics that put much emphasis on supremacy of their political parties.
Of course, we had another team of MPs who played a crucial role in tempering the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration.
But to avoid being extravagant with my praise, let me state that not all those sitting in Lilongwe are good. Less than 10 of the 191 MPs are superstars in their own right, while less than 20 are active. The rest are good for nothing hand-clappers who just sit there plotting how to dip their dirty fingers in the much abused Constituency Development Fund.
On Wednesday this week, the MPs passed yet another progressive piece of legislation. They replaced the Procurement Act with the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Bill. The bill has a lot of positives. But of immediate concern to this entry is the provision that gives preference to indigenous Malawians in government procurement.
Yes, busy bodies might harp about this bill being discriminatory and unfair. But who said life has ever been fair? If the world were to be fair, the developed world would not have been light years ahead of those of us who live on the fringes of the globe.
These are the people who made sure that Mozambicans should spend decades killing each other as the capitalists stole precious minerals; they span Tanzania out of its sisal enclave and now they are telling us to start growing industrial hemp; they stifled Zambia from its copper niche and now they are smoking Malawi out of its green gold.
I believe that this bill aims to right a historical wrong that has been perpetuated for decades. It is a kind of affirmative action. It happens all over the world when countries hedge their citizens against unfair competition. The developed world still offers subsidises to its farmers to ensure food security and empowerment. South Africa has the Black Economic Empowerment initiative that was designed to enable entrepreneuring but resource constrained black South Africans compete for government tenders.
This country has been exploited for years. There are some residents who were born and bred here but they owe allegiance to other governments than the Malawi government. These residents have access to soft loans from their countries whose interests can be as low as three or five percent. Because of the abundance of wealth in ‘their countries’, they can easily pool resources together to easily compete on the Malawi market. They also have favourable terms when it comes to buying and importing equipment and materials from ‘their countries’.
They win tenders in Malawi and take away a larger percentage of the proceeds from the work to their countries on the pretext that they are paying their partners. These people receive tax and business advice from their countries, enabling them to avoid taxes in Malawi as well as enjoy tax holidays.
But for my countrymen from Mhuju, Chitukula and Nalipiri; they have no resources to push them to the fore. Yet these projects come into Malawi in the name of the poor. Have people observed how some donors bring in labour and everything into projects being implemented in Malawi? The only items we contribute are casual labour, bricks and mortar just because they have not yet discovered a cheaper way of importing sand from their countries.
But we need to be cautious in implementing this law. We do not want to substitute one wrong with another one. It is important that we set up the procurement authority as stipulated in the bill. Zimbabwe repossessed farms from white commercial farmers and distributed it to indigenous Zimbabweans. Today, most of that land remains bushy. Most of the locals are just burning the bushes to hunt for mice.
Back home, we have tried to give loans to the youth and other vulnerable entrepreneurs. But we doled out the loans to party cadres who mistook the loans for payment for their loyalty. If we are not careful, we shall end up with a dissatisfied citizenry that will accuse authorities of practising pork-barrel politics
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