A study by the Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) has revealed that despite the country investing billions of kwacha in safety net programmes every year, many Malawians continue to languish in poverty and inequality remains visible.
Findings of the study were presented during an interface between Mejn and the Budget and Finance as well as the Public Accounts Committees of Parliament.
The study showed that over the past couple of years, the government has been implementing a number of safety net programmes such as the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), Social Cash Transfers, Decent and Affordable Housing Programme, School Meals Programme, bursary and cash transfer to needy secondary school students as well as loans and grants to university students.
The study revealed that despite implementing these safety nets Malawi has not done enough to lift many Malawians from extreme poverty as well as to significantly narrow the inequality gap.
According to the study, the proportion of population living below national poverty line was 52.4 percent in 2004, 50.7 percent in 2010 and 51.5 percent in 2016.
Income inequality as measured by gini coefficient was 0.39 in 2004, 0.45 in 2010 and 0.43 in 2016.
The richest 10 percent of the population control 38.1 percent of total income while the poorest 40 percent control 16.2 percent of total income.
The results showed that while some safety nets were deemed to be effective in reducing poverty, others were less effective.
Mejn Acting Executive Director, Bertha Phiri, said Malawi subscribes to a number of commitments, including Sustainable Development Goals number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 10 which stipulate on how best Malawi Government can fight the socioeconomic inequalities that exist.
But according to Phiri, the findings of the study revealed that there are many gaps on the ground.
“Programmes have been implemented since time immemorial but we still have 51 percent of the population living below poverty line.
“We have also realized that the social protection programmes that we have been implementing do not speak to the National Social Protection Policy that we have at hand. So because of that, we are not so much moving forward in our efforts to reduce poverty.
“For a start, the target is not met because we seem to be targeting the same people. People have not been graduating as per the social protection agenda we have in Malawi,” Phiri said.
She blamed the situation to lack of continuity and willingness to continue working on the existing policy.
Phiri said Chapter 3, Section 13 of the Constitution of Malawi provide a commitment by government to articulate and attend to the policies that are put in place.
“So for us we see lack of willingness just to adhere to the policies that we have. You will agree with us that there are a lot of policies out there but then there is this narrative tag where government seems not to attend to these policies properly and just thinking of things that are political in nature and those that would speak to party manifestos,” Phiri said.
Public Accounts Committee of Parliament Chairperson, Shadreck Namalomba, said there is need to ensure that safety net programmes target areas that would boost production rather than consumption.
Namalomba said safety nets in the education sector are key in ensuring that the country moves forward.
“As a country we need to assign a lot more funds towards education and in particular the girl child education which would help to ensure that the girl remains in school and avoid getting teenage pregnancies.
“By so doing we would be encouraging the girls to finish their education and grow into responsible citizens infuture,” Namalomba said.
On her part, Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament Chairperson, Gladys Ganda, said most of the safety nets that government has put in place have tilted towards the agriculture sector while neglecting the important sector of education.
She gave an example of the Affordable Input Programme which has injected over K160 billion in the provision of cheap fertiliser and seed.
“There are many boys and girls who are withdrawing from school. I think when it comes to priority so that we also prioritise the education sector which will give us very good returns.
“Moving forward, while government is supporting the AIP, we also need to look at strengthening other areas of agriculture such as irrigation which would help Malawi to grow crops more than once a year and hedge against erratic rains,” Ganda said.