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The Thumb: Does APM have an agenda for Malawi?

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Various commentators have claimed that they are not aware of President Peter Mutharika’s economic and development agenda for Malawi. Indeed unlike his late brother Bingu wa Mutharika, APM has not prominently pronounced himself on his plans for economic development in the country.

Not many may recall a catch line of APM’s development agenda such as Joyce Banda’s “Economic Recovery Plan”, Bingu’s “Transforming Malawi from a predominantly importing and consuming nation to a predominantly producing and exporting country”, Bakili Muluzi’s “poverty alleviation programme” or Kamuzu Banda’s “Food, housing and clothing for all”.

APM’s pet projects seems to be the “Malata and cement subsidy” and the “Community Colleges” programmes. And while he may not have an easy to remember economic development agenda, APM has consistently advanced a certain line of planning which seems to be his development strategy for Malawi.

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First of all, Peter wants to improve efficiency in government and the entire public service through the Public Services Reforms Programme.

Secondly, APM seems to bank on increased Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a key means to not only attract foreign capital as a substitute to lost foreign aid but also as a means of restoring economic growth, creating jobs, increasing government revenue and boosting exports.

He also seems to have put reasonable attention on energy sector development, focusing on increase electricity generation through projects such as the planned Chinafunded Kam’mwamba coal power generation plant as well as solar energy generation projects being planned by several American and European companies.

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The focus on energy could also benefit from the United States of America-funded US$350 million Millennium Challenge Corporation compact programme which is supporting reforms and various infrastructural rehabilitation and expansion projects within the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom).

So APM seems to have some economic vision for Malawi. However, there are some problems with APM’s development plans.

First of all, all his plans are the kind that may only bring tangible results in the medium to long term. He lacks strategies that could provide relief in the immediate to short term while people await attainment of the long term goals.

Secondly, he has not marketed his agenda to the people very well hence, they still lack wider appreciation and support from the public.

Thirdly, lack of resources from development partners and prospects of continued drought, reduced agricultural and food production means such ambitious plans will have to be implemented while people are going through harsh economic conditions, with the president expected to pay equal, if not more, attention to immediate relief needs of the people.

The general environment under which the President’s economic agenda is being pushed could also explain why there is low appreciation of the programmes among the majority of the people.

It is, therefore, important for Mutharika and his government to come up with immediate measures for addressing key issues affecting the country.

He also needs to sell his agenda to the people through a vibrant communications strategy that would help rally the people behind his government in the implementation of the plans.

Mutharika needs to know that while reduced donor aid and low agricultural production may be behind the worsening economic indicators in the name of inflation, interest rates and currency depreciation, lack of fiscal discipline in his government is making things worse.

Controlled expenditure by the government can reduce pressure on inflation and help control the economy while protecting consumers from worst effects of the negative economic situation in the country.

Mutharika’s government is, however, yet to come up with an expenditure control strategy with clear measures of how they intend to limit spending without reducing delivery of basic services to the people.

The government needs to pronounce itself loudly on which votes will be scaled down to ensure that it not only spends within budget but also returns to a programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which is currently off-track following slippages in both spending and domestic borrowing targets in the early months of the financial year.

Although the government claims that it is on track to meet expenditure control and domestic borrowing targets, it is yet to be appreciated by the general public if indeed fiscal discipline is being practiced in the government. In any case, the worsening inflation rates could be an indication that there is continued “business as usual” spending in government.

So unless Mutharika comes out clearly and starts enforcing tough expenditure control measures and learns to communicate the same as well his general development agenda to the masses, people will continue living in the dark and maintain their own perceptions as regards what the President is doing, or is not doing, to address the challenges they are facing.

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