Tears of an investor
On July 13 2021, at the launch of the Shire North Railway Bridge in Balaka District, President Lazarus Chakwera had no kind words for people purportedly frustrating his government’s efforts to attract foreign direct investment (FDI).
He faulted what he then called unnecessary bureaucracies.
“I want this nonsense to stop because it is scaring away investors and developers.
“I can assure you that for every company that secures a contract to build a road or rail in Malawi, there are twenty others that give up on helping us because our processes for contracting out infrastructural projects are too unclear, too long, too slow, and too cumbersome,” Chakwera said.
His message was clear, saying, for long, some government policies and laxity among some controlling officers have been scaring away investors and developers.
But it appears a foregone conclusion that the message fell on deaf ears.
This is if what investors Russ and Kate of Kachere Kastle said in one of the local newspapers is anything to go by.
The investors, who have built a magnificent tourism attraction site in Nkhata Bay District worth $500, 000 (approximately K500 million) alleged that they struggled to get electricity – a core ingredient for businesses.
The firm claims that during construction of the hospitality and tourism site, it paid K16 million to Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) to connect them to the national grid but it took them four years to get connected.
“If you cannot get a domestic electricity connection after three years, the country cannot be an attractive investment destination. Our battle to get a reasonable service from Escom continues but what should we tell others wanting to invest in Malawi?
“Investors put their money in Malawi, so Escom should raise their game to help the country to develop,” the investors said.
Escom Public Relations Manager Kitty Chingota asked for more time before she could comment on the matter.
In an interview, Minister of Trade and Industry Simplex Chithyola said his ministry has not received official complaints on huddles met when investments in the country.
“Trade and Industry, through MITC, facilitates a conducive environment for investment in this country including incentives. We will look into the matter and provide technical advice to ensure that Malawi remains attractive for investments,” Chithyola said.
Economist from the Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences Betchani Tchereni said the economy cannot move with significant transformative speed if utility providers do not play their role.
Tchereni added that it is high time Malawi started walking the talk and made sure that none is left surprised with the gap between the policy makers and implementers.
“While top government officials are touting investor confidence, those entrusted with implementation do not seem to be coming to the party. This cannot be tolerated. Meanwhile, the same investors are needed in other countries, where people do not delay,” Tchereni said.
Apparently, in its recent Global Investment Trends Monitor, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) projects a slow inflow of FDIs into Malawi this year.
Also, available data show new investment pledges slumped by 85.8 percent to $174.8 million in 2021 from $1 231.1 million in 2020.
During the review period, FDI net inflows declined by 55.3 percent from $209.4 million in 2020 to $115.9 million in 2021.
Malawi remains an agrarian economy but with vast potential in other sectors including tourism and mining.
The country aspires to be an inclusively wealthy and self-reliant nation by 2063 through means it has outlined in the Malawi 2063 blueprint, which has three pillars and seven enablers.
Enabler number three is enhanced public sector performance where the country aspires to have what the vision describes as a world-class high performing and professional public sector for efficient delivery of public goods and services.
It is clear that if the country is serious about achieving such goals and making itself inclusively wealthy and self-reliant by 2063, it needs to change its approach.
Justin Mkweu is a fast growing reporter who currently works with Times Group on the business desk.
He is however flexible as he also writes about current affairs and national issues.