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Start with fuel and vehicles in the cost-cutting measures

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Following revelations from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that one of the reasons the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) programme for Malawi is off track is government’s spending beyond budget, debate in some circles has centred around which expenditure lines the government can cut to ensure that the economy rebounds.

There have been fears that the government may be forced to reduce expenditure on essential public services such as health, education, security and social welfare and that new taxes may be introduced in the revised budget to increase revenue collection at the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA).

But to say the truth, there is no need for the government to scale-down on social services or increase taxes as it tries to meet IMF targets. It is a well known fact that there is a lot of wastage, extravagance and pilferage of resources in government that can translate into huge savings if kept on check.

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Desperate times demand desperate measures. This is the time when bold and sometimes unpopular decisions are required from leaders.

The first and probably foremost area of wastage in government is on travel and vehicle expenses. Government can just start by reducing the huge allocations for fuel and vehicle maintenance to the president and his aides, ministers, principal secretaries, directors, the speakers and members of Parliament, High Court and Supreme Court judges, director generals and all other bosses in public sector agencies.

Why should ministers and other senior public sector officials get monthly allocations of 1,000 litres or K723,000 each in monetary terms, when ambulances have been grounded in hospitals due to lack of resources for the purchase of fuel?

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In the private sector, CEOs can get up to 500 litres of fuel per month. President Mutharika should take a bold move and order that no individual in the public sector should get a fuel allocation of more than 500 litres. The savings will be huge.

The government should also immediately borrow a model from the private sector where companies are now helping managers to acquire personal vehicles instead of allocating them official vehicles which also demand public resources for maintenance.

Assisting the principal secretaries, director generals, directors, judges and other senior managers to acquire their own vehicles through bank loans will save the government huge resources in maintenance as the bosses will now be required to do that on their own.

Traveling among civil servants for workshops and flimsy field trips is also another area which should be managed carefully to ensure that only valid trips are approved and undertaken. It is a well known fact that most civil servants use field trips and workshops to siphon money out of the government. As a result, such trips and meetings have become more of a source of income rather than a means for service delivery.

Controlling officers need to institute strict measures to ensure that only trips and meetings that are essential are undertaken by officers in their ministries and departments. I remember some time a few years ago when government directed that workshops and seminars will only take place when funded by donor agencies. This is another right time to revive that policy.

Another key area where government can achieve huge savings is prevention of fraud and corruption. It has been estimated that up to 30 percent of public resources are lost due to corruption and fraud.

The cashgate scandal of 2013 indeed proved that there is massive fraud and corruption that is draining huge resources that could otherwise have been used in the delivery of essential public services.

The public sector and financial management reforms the government has embarked could go a long way in sealing loopholes used to defraud the government. But the reforms should not just be on paper. They should be implemented and seen to be working.

Malawi has adequate resources that could enable the country to survive on its own, at least on recurrent expenditures, without depending on donor aid. Actually, it is donor aid that has spoiled the country because we have relaxed in terms of finding ways of surviving on our own as we were always assured that donors would come to our rescue.

Aid should be used for the development of the country and not for the provision of our basic survival needs. The current situation in the country where everything has collapsed because donors have left should be a wake-up call that should make us find ways of fending for ourselves without expecting foreigners to even feed us.

This is the time for making hard decisions that would help maintain the viability of Malawi as a sovereign state. As things are now, we are almost bankrupt and insolvent and not capable of standing on our two legs.

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