Debt relief good, and Bakili Muluzi's UDF's failure to obtain it while sadly digging potholes for those coming behind them to crash into.
06/09/06—Admittedly, one of the best things that has happened to Malawi in the past 12 years is the writing off last week of 90 percent of the country’s foreign debt—over K406 billion—by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. This sweet news would not have come at a better time than now for Malawi which badly needed this respite from donors.
As many commentators have said, no one can take away the credit from President Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration with Goodall Gondwe at the helm of the Finance Ministry for achieving this feat. This is especially so considering how remote debt cancellation looked only two years ago.
As we give credit to government for killing this beast and bringing its carcass home, mention should be made of the fact that the development has not just come like manna from heaven. Government was required to follow a strict fiscal regime to reach the completion point to qualify for debt relief. Debt cancellation has come through traversing a path the former government, for all its bragging about as a government that had economic development and the welfare of the people at heart as its number one agenda, not only failed to tread but also sadly dug potholes for those coming behind them to crash into.
One thing that was evident on the journey to debt relief was political will. Against all odds, government was not swayed by the need to be politically correct and kept faith with the strong desire to bail the country out of economic malaise. Honest Malawians will not be shy to admit that they never saw anything close to this—economic prudence—from the previous administration.
I am actually reminded about rude statements we usually heard like “I would rather be poor looking up than down, Ndimadya kwanu? We are a sovereign state so nobody should push us around”, etc. And if what someone has said that bad politics is barrier economics is anything to go by, then conversely, and for all its altercations with the opposition, the Mutharika government has been practising good politics. Which is why I believe even the opposition, well-known for their meanness in appreciating government’s work, have been generous in showering praises on government, a point I need not belabour.
With this good news, maybe it is about time we started afresh politically as well. We should do away with hate politics that has characterised most of the post-single party era. We should bid farewell to politics of vengeance. Let us avoid tit-for-tat. Such politics confirm people’s worst fears for hypocrisy which has come with government’s much-touted stand on zero-tolerance against corruption and graft in high offices. This is because tit-for-tat implies that government is selective in dealing with vices it is supposed to root out without looking at anybody’s face. An-eye-for-an-eye means that as long as you do not offend the powers that be you are safe even if you may have a cupboard full of skeletons.
Government could also do well to take debt cancellation as an opportunity to look back at the stumps it has crashed into along the way. The road has not been rosy. Government has made so many mistakes most of them with disastrous political and financial consequences. The most recent ones being the arrest of Vice President Cassim Chilumpha and 10 UDF cadres in connection with their alleged roles in Mutharika’s assassination plot. Government should ask itself if it is doing the right thing that nothing is happening on the assassination case six months after the arrests. Is the long delay in holding a judicial review justifiable?
Another grey area President Mutharika may do well to revisit is the hiring and firing of senior government officials which he has been doing willy-nilly. While it is his prerogative to do so, one wonders if he can justify such. Are all the people he has been firing unsuitable?
Lack of constitutionalism is another cancer in the Mutharika administration that needs to be removed. The calls for impeachment for violations of the Constitution may have been exaggerated but were not from without. And the fact that those peddling impeachment have not gone very far in materialising their objective does not absolve Mutharika of the blame. The President should have been in the forefront of defending rather breaching the supreme laws of the land. The list is long of things the President would have done better during the two years of his rule. But I think I have made my point.
As for the money freed by the cancellation of debt, the bottom line is that debt relief will be meaningless if the money freed from the development is not used to spur economic growth. With this money, let the masses see change in their lives.