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When good news is never celebrated!

As a nation we are so used to bad news that when there is good news to be shared the first reaction is that of disbelief and then denial. If that does not suffice, then the nation finds a reason to accuse the bearer of the good news as false prophets.

Last week newspapers carried two pieces of good news that every Malawian should be celebrating. The first was that inflation continues to slow down. The figures released by the National Statistical office show that Malawi’s year-on-year inflation rate for October 2017 has dropped by 0.1 percentage points to 8.3 percent from the previous month’s 8.4 percent. The drop is not as minimal as it seems bearing in mind that this is a country that has been used to increases in inflation figures in recent years. The NSO is a Malawian institution and has been accused to bowing down to the politicians’ wishes.

Those who are used to bad news coming out of Malawi will always claim that the inflation figures have been manipulated. What is surprising is that the very same people will always use the NSO figures without question when the inflation figures show and increase. At that time the ability to question the figures disappears quickly into thin air.

While it is understandable that the statistics of the inflation rate is received with skepticism by the general public, it is another thing to accept the figures when it suits him and then dispute them when they do not support his political narrative. Of course there are many reasons why people dispute inflation figures. There are those who believe that the calculation of the index does not use actual market prices that most consumers pay. They are probably collected from a few selected places that are not representative of market prices. There are also some doubts as to whether certain commodities are dropped from the index when their prices rise on the spurious grounds that these are not bought by people. But is this the ground for a leader in waiting to begin to question the statistics simply because they do not fit into his narrative? Is this not a lack of honesty, integrity and total disrespect to the civil servants whose job is to provide the figures that politicians use to advance their cause?

The second piece of good news came from the World Bank’s doing business Report release a few weeks ago. The report puts Malawi as the third most improved country among the 190 countries that were assessed.

This is no mean achievement and for a country that is always looking for good news to celebrate one would have thought that the newspapers would be the biggest cheer leaders. This is the 15th year since the introduction of the doing business report by the World Bank. In this report the countries are ranked based on the distance to frontier score.

This measure shows the distance of each country to the “frontier,” which represents the best performance observed on each of the indicators across all economies in the sample. It is the gap between an economy’s current performance and the best practice across the entire sample of 41 indicators across ten indicator sets. The sets in general measure the aspects of business regulation and their implications for firm establishment and operations. These range from the processes for starting a business, obtaining a building permit, getting an electricity connection, transferring property, paying taxes, taking a commercial dispute to court, and resolving an insolvency case, as well as credit and equity market regulations to logistics of importing and exporting goods.

It is important to state at the onset that they do not include all the issues that are relevant for businesses’ decisions, but they cover important areas that are under the control of policy makers. Malawi joined El Salvador, India, Nigeria and Thailand as the countries that made the most impressive strides and joined the ten top improvers for the first time since the launch of this report fifteen years ago. Malawi performed exceptionally well in four areas, namely dealing with construction permits, getting credit, trading across borders and resolving insolvency.

Does this matter? What impact does all this have on the fight against poverty and good governance? Some of the factors measured under the report have a direct impact on the efforts to reduce poverty in Malawi and turn the economy from importing to exporting. Businesses create employment; therefore the ease of doing business can enhance the opportunities for creating employment and therefore have an direct impact on those employed through an income. In addition, the cumbersome business regulations push away potential entrepreneurs and indirectly push potential workers out of the formal employment into the informal sector. It is common knowledge that the informal sector is normally associated with minimal social protection and increased levels of poverty. There is some good news coming out of Malawi that deserves some celebration!

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