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Nowhere to run

Dear Pain

There, often, is no big difference between the National Budget Statement and the President’s announcement that the government has saved so much money through the First Citizen’s decision to snub one foreign trip or two.

In both cases, the monies that are mentioned in one breath are not always there.

In other words, pronouncements contained in the budget statement and the State House’s public posturing on austerity measures, which new Secretary to the President and Cabinet Colleen Zamba has just announced, are all a way of bringing a utopia-premised idea in real life, the idea being to fill the void in one’s heart, feelings and what have you.

Thing is, our leaders know that things have gone haywire in this land of the lake. While wages and salaries remain a pittance for the majority of people, the cost of living is getting high each passing day.

As for the farmer— those noble people who feed this nation by cultivating the staple maize; as well as those that bring foreign currency to the country when they cultivate tobacco and sell it at the auction floors or through contract farming— returns from the market are shrinking while prices of inputs such as seed, fertiliser, pesticides, among others, are rocketing.

This means what a farmer regarded as fatty income two weeks ago turns into some painful loss today and, by implication, that means the individual has no money with which to buy the necessities.

That, exactly, is how hunger is fermented in a country, especially when those in charge of national affairs do not realise that farmers and people that feed the nation have fallen on bad times and need a helping hand.

In our case, considering what has happened this year, with unpredictability of prices of goods and services as well as the climate, there is nowhere for people to run to except to the government.

The sensible thing now would have been to extend the Affordable Inputs Programme to farmers that invest in production, as opposed to what we have been doing— investing huge sums of money in consumption and, worse still, in people that simply do not see the need to graduate from programmes.

Spoon – feeding, which former president Bakili Muluzi inculcated in the nation through cash hand-outs at public rallies and starter-pack, continues to dig into the self-dependency soul of this nation. But for how long?

In fact, if government officials were sensible, they would have owned up the mess at the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc), which was supposed to be a commercially-oriented entity but has been turned into the government’s charity arm.

As at now, Admarc is swimming in K72 billion debt, after accumulating money that does not belong to it.

The corporation indicates, in a report submitted to the Agriculture Committee of Parliament, that the amount had piled up by June 1 2022, with some of the loans going past their maturity dates.

The report says the State-owned grain trader owes FDH Bank an overdraft of about K4.2 billion, which was drawn for salaries and pensions. Another debt with FDH Bank is a long-term loan for motor vehicles valued at about K172 million and is also long overdue.

The other loans, which are due on June 30 2022 and September 30 2022, are with CDH Bank valued at K13.8 billion and K24.7 billion. The monies were borrowed in the name of crop purchases and social crop purchases after the government promised to do its part.

As expected, it has not.

I, therefore, understand Admarc Board Chairperson Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi’s ire.

When he says “Admarc can only service its loans when it is allowed to do business, which is not the case in the current scenario,” he is talking common sense, which seems not to be common in the government setup anyway.

Maybe the government was set up not to be understood.

Think, for instance, about the issue of President Lazarus Chakwera’s cancelled trips to Vienna, Austria, and Rwanda, where he was supposed to participate in Opec Fund Development Forum and Commonwealth Heads of Government activities.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nancy Tembo, who made the announcement, seemed to be satisfied that, by saying the President would not go there, Malawians would be placated.

In fact, Finance Minister Sosten Gwengwe seemed to be in the same shoes, believing that it is enough to tell us that, through Chakwera’s decision, the government has saved K268 million and say nothing more.

Malawians needed more information than “The President wants to be in the forefront in protecting public resources because of the public debt and devaluation. We need to be very strict when executing our budget. After devaluation, we needed to review our figures so that, going forward, the budget should not be misaligned”.

What I am saying is that Malawians want to know where the saved money is, so that they can follow the issue up in future to ensure that the monies are used in ways that will benefit Malawians.

Why not say, for example, that the funds will be used for buying desks at school A or B or C?

But, Dear Pain, that is the pain one endures for being associated with this land of the lake. Cases of clarity, like hope, are often in short supply.

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