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Political parties’ shelved, living dreams

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Before the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections, the country’s political parties— be it the then ruling People’s Party (PP), the then opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the National Salvation Front (Nasaf), Chipani Cha Pfuko, United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Malawi Congress Party— were flying high on the wings of hope that this, perhaps, could be their year.

Come elections’ day, with the subsequent news that the DPP had carried the day, the hopes were doused by the waters of disappointment. Maybe their day will come, one day.

Surprisingly, some of the vanquished political parties seem to have buried their campaign promises, some three years into DPP’s reign. It is as if the ceiling of hope has dropped so low that the political parties cannot even muster the confidence to repeat what they were saying during campaign period.

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One of the areas some political parties focused on in the 2014 elections was road infrastructure, as each political party articulated policies it hoped would sway the public.

In this article, I bring to life some of the issues some political parties raised, in the hope that, should the issues crop up again in the 2019 elections, we may know which of those are a replay of a script that was sold in 2014.

Nasaf

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Malawi’s road infrastructure is over 20 years behind, with unnecessary congestions, leading to Malawi having one of the highest road traffic accident rates in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc)region. Public transport is also expensive and unreliable. Nasaf’s vision is [that of] a Malawi that has a modern, safe, fast, efficient and affordable public transportation system.

(Our) objectives are to revamp the National Road Traffic Directorate in order to make it corrupt free and be proactive; expand the offices of National Road Traffic Directorate to accommodate increased and better clients’ care; strengthen and eliminate loopholes in the procurement procedures of a driver’s licence in order to eliminate [cases of] insufficiently-trained drivers; empower the National Roads Authority to eliminate all unauthorised use of national road reserves; widen all major intersections on all M roads to reduce congestion; expand the bitumised road network across the country; regularly maintain all gravel roads; construct bridges on all secondary roads that are impassable during rainy season such as the Mangochi-Makanjira Road, the Lilongwe-Kasiya-Bua Road and the Rumphi-Chitipa Road via Wenga and Nthalire to mention but a few.

Chipani Cha Pfuko

We believe that developing the rail industry is the hallmark of development. We will, therefore, ensure that we improve our rail network by rehabilitating the current network so that rail transport can become the main means of transporting goods, including agricultural produce, in the country.

But our programme of action will not end there; we will make sure that we develop new railway networks which will be integrated with national and international networks to ease transportation problems. We believe that railway transport is the gate-way to the outside world, and that an improved railway network is key to bringing the cost of goods down, thereby impacting positively on national development.

We believe that there is nothing new that can be done to improve the national road network which has not been done, hence our focus on railway transportation. While taking cognisance of the fact that water, air and road transport are key to national development, we will make railway transport our focus of development.

DPP

We shall revive the Nsanje World Inland Port Project, which will cut transportation costs by 60 percent. Our commitment towards Malawi roads, railways, airline, postal and telecommunications services can at best be described as our flagship. Improved operations and efficiency of transport and communications infrastructures support increased production and trade.

In addition, the DPP will develop new inter-modal infrastructures to support our agriculture, industry and energy so as to ensure that these sectors help to sustain new levels of growth of our economy. In this regard, the following will be given top priority: Construct a new and comprehensive network of rural access roads and trunk roads to serve the remote agricultural areas so that produce can reach the urban markets safety and efficiently.

Upgrading, maintaining and repairing roads, bridges, airports and lake harbours to enable them to support our new vision of development. We will complete the Nsanje Inland Port and operationalise it into a canal to use barges from the Indian Ocean.

This will support national development programmes to develop inter-state links with Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania as well as Sadc, Comesa and the rest of the world. Upgrade and maintain Kamuzu and Chileka International airports, and develop international airports in Mangochi, Nsanje, Mzuzu and Karonga.

Improve the railways, which continue to be the main means of transportation for Malawi, through more efficient management on a commercial basis. We shall rehabilitate existing railways and develop new railway networks for integrating with regional networks and harmonise railways policy, administration practices and procedures to ensure that railways networks are compatible with other modes of transport.

UDF

Infrastructure investments form the backbone of Malawi’s economic and social reforms. Malawi has long suffered from an infrastructure deficit. Agriculture reforms are also dependent on adequate road access and marketing infrastructure. Transportation is cited as one of the key obstacles to private sector investment.

Delays at ports and border posts, unduly complex customs and regulatory and non-tariff barriers along major routes all contribute to higher than necessary transport costs, making it harder for Malawi to integrate into the regional and global economy. Road safety is also a major issue that requires solutions that address institutions, attitudes and physical infrastructure.

Rail transport is underutilised as a lower cost alternative to road freight due to poor condition of rails, rail-beds and shortages of rolling stock.

Weak trade supporting infrastructure is profound as Malawi ranked 73rd out of 155 countries in 2012.

Malawi must improve its development prospects by strengthening its hard and soft infrastructure in order to better exploit trade opportunities. Unit costs for transport inside Malawi are at least twice as high as in South Africa as a result of long distances to ports and the low backloads.

The UDF will unlock Malawi’s potential as the transit route for the increasing volume of minerals being produced, including initiating PPP agreements between the Government of Malawi and private sector especially in rail transport; re-establish the Beira RailWay link as a matter of urgency; strengthen regional development corridors to improve trade facilitation, reduce cross borders and travel time in infrastructure back bones, especially power, IEC and transport; strengthen the capacity of key transport sector institutions including the Ministry of Transport.

Conclusion

While opposition political parties are yet to get their days in the sun of governing this country, the DPP has had its chance. Has it lived up to the dreams?

Next Tuesday, I will highlight where the DPP has fulfilled its campaign promises, and where it has failed big time.

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