The Council for Non-Governmental Organizations in Malawi as designated NGO coordinating body of over 510 NGOs feels duty bound to provide its opinion and voice on the current maize shortage, deteriorating socio-economic situation and the sloppy health service delivery system. These complicate the work of NGOs and negatively affect the welfare of the ordinary citizens.
OUR BROAD UNDERSTANDING AND ENQUIRY OF THE SITUATION
I Shortage of maize and Government policy
It is a fact that the economy of Malawi is to a bigger extent a ‘maize economy’ after tobacco, looking at the:
- Huge public investments into Farm Input Subsidy program (FISP)
- Huge proportion of maizehood in the food basket for Malawi
- Huge impact that any shortage of maize has on inflation
Unfortunately, most ruling regimes in Malawi have performed dismally and have been embarrassingly blank of these facts. Our observations and enquiry are as follows:
- National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) and ADMARC have severally and jointly continuously and miserably failed to account for the maize under their custody ever since Multi-party democracy. It should be recollected that in 2001/2002 growing season, Malawians faced hunger because these institutions could not trace the maize under their custody. Some people who were in charge on these institutions then, and were seemingly earmarked for arrest, mysteriously vanished into thin air evading arrest.
- In 2012/2013 season, some metric tons of maize were reported rotten in the silos. The Administration then purported to conduct an enquiry into the circumstances. It looks that the report from the inquiry if it took place has not been widely publicized to account to the public. Still the maize was lost again.
- Currently, Government has blamed vendors for the sloppy management at ADMARC which is assuring in a way that Government wants accountability. However, should venders really be part of the blame equation? Isn’t it ADMARC itself that opened its doors at the said odd hours to sell the maize? The Mpherembe ADMARC Depot alleged assault case reported in the Nation Newspaper of Tuesday, 16 February 2016 page 8, perfectly reveals the purported rot in ADMARC.
- The maize that is being posited as sold at night at ADMARC, is this the maize that was bought by Donor money or this is another consignment of maize?
- With what is happening in ADMARC and NFRA, can it not be concluded that reforms are not working for ADMARC and NFRA or these two institutions are not part of the reforms agenda yet?
- Sourcing of maize from neighboring countries is very important because it will cut on transportation costs. As such, Governmnet must be applauded for this. However, it is also important to highlight that these neighboring countries are equally affected by el nino but yet have surplus to sell to Malawi. What it basically means is that they have better policies and priorities than Malawi.
- Should we Malawians continue to depend on maize as the only food crop? Can we not have change of mind set to shift from the maizehood belief as the only food in the country and reduce demand for maize?
- Despite being endowed with a lot of natural resources like surface water, Malawi is very far from achieving long term food sufficiency using this water in rivers and the lakes. In this regard, Governmnet has been too slow to implement policies including the Green Belt Initiative (GBI) as it seems we are stuck with it. There is empirical evidence that if all the existing policies and laws were implemented to the letter, Malawi would be a better place for all. Unfortunately, lip service, mediocrity and selfishness are the order of the day.
II Deteriorating economy and declining public services
- Bleak future of the Malawi economy
CONGOMA notes that economic parameters of inflation, interest rates, exchange rate and employment are visibly in bad state. Food inflation has gone up from 2.9% in December 2010 to 29.2% by December 2015 (https://www.rbm.mw/statistics/inflationrates), exchange rate is on record high since time immemorial courtesy of the free floated Kwacha (RBM, 2016) and the cost of borrowing is too high to spur investment. No wonder the economy witnesses mushrooming of warehouses and shops that stock and sell imported goods than factories that could produce goods locally. Hence low employment of labour and capital on the market and some companies have started retrenching staff. Government’s excessive domestic borrowing for consumption has pushed interest rates and inflation up. Simply put Gross Domestic Product (GDP) should be on record low because the economy is not producing and the Kwacha will continue to fall if the economy is not producing enough for export market. Worse still Donor inflows for direct budget support seem to have reached a dead end. Malawi therefore needs to take a bold decision on its future than adopting a wait and see approach when a lot has been seem already.
- Weak public services and Increasing Poverty and inequality
According to Oxfam 2015 (A Dangerous Divide: The State of Inequality in Malawi), Malawi has a population of 16.3 million people of whom 8 million (50%) are poor. Comparing this figure with the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS II) 2011-2016 on page 6 which quotes poverty level to be at 52% and 39% in 2004 and 2010 respectively, means that poverty in Malawi has increased since 2010. According to Oxfam, there are many drivers of poverty in Malawi including weak provision and access to public services in health and education; ineffective implementation of gender sensitive policies; corruption and embezzlement of public funds and weak delivery of social protection programs (cash transfers; public works; farm input subsidies among many).
On the health sector, CONGOMA has noted with big concern the woes that people face with referral cases where Governmnet is failing to provide adequate funding to District Hospitals such that they are unable to buy adequate fuel for ambulances; they ration meals to patients; some turn patients away because there are no drugs and so on. Adding salt to injury, as of late is the issue of the dialysis machines at QECH that are non-functional and people are inconvenienced to go to Lilongwe for a service. How much do these machines cost to fix?
As for the corruption and embezzlement, CONGOMA is dismayed at the slow progress on the cases and minimal recovery of cash gate money and property? Can Malawians be updated on the factors behind the slow pace?
In view of the above, we call upon Government to:
- Stop the rhetoric and maize politics but immediately exert authority on NFRA to account for the maize they had in stock. Malawians need to know where the maize went. In addition, flood the markets with maize and let market forces take their rightful role (demand and supply tradeoffs) and crowd-out vendors’ market share.
- Stop blaming venders for the maize woes when actually it’s the ADMARC officials that open their gates at a convenient odd hour and sell the maize to these venders.
- Immediately investigate and bring to book, Mpherembe ADMARC Depot Guard, reported to have beaten up a lady customer for revealing challenges they face with the ADMARC and bad practices by Mpherembe ADMARC officials.
- Ensure that NFRA and ADMARC immediately start publishing in public and private media the grain stock they have so that the information is in public domain. Do not hide behind ATI Bill.
- Ensure that the coming Parliament session discusses the modalities of putting ADMARC and NFRA under Parliamentary supervision so that there is assurance to Malawians that food is seen to be reserved
- Ensure that ADMARC wakes up and be seen to do its Agriculture Development role forthwith focusing on maize production. In addition, ensure timely funding to ADMARC so that it is able to procure the grain during the harvesting time, rather than funding ADMARC in July after all the maize is bought by the Private Traders.
- Speed up Green belt initiative and cause to invest in commercial farming of maize and other food crops
- Come out clear on economic policies which seem not to support production, growth and export trade and yet Governmnet ironically wants export led growth. Private Sector needs to be inspired, supported and incentivized:
- Be seen to resuscitate the National Export Strategy
- Strengthen the Export Development Fund
- Reduce duty on capital goods for import substitution and strengthen export market production (Export Processing Zones- EPZs)
- Develop national budgets that have a right mix of consumption and production based on local resources and stick to spending targets
- Publish expenditure figures alongside the budget as it is a good financial management practice
- Speed up Zambezi Water way/ Nsanje-World In-land port project to reduce transport costs for exports and make them competitive
- Immediately relax administrative rules for the importation of maize and maize products to allow private consumers easily get the products from across borders.
- Forthwith resolve the issue of Dialysis machines for QECH because people are suffering due its unavailability/ non functionality. People’s health should be seen to be a priority for the Ministry of Health. It is a right and not a privilege for the people.
- Stop being seen to be organizing, manipulating, dividing and ruling some Civil Society sections with a view of creating or mobilizing public sympathy for Government. It is our considered opinion that Government has more than enough on its plate of to do list, to start meddling in and peddling Civil Society organizations.
In conclusion we call upon Malawians to exert pressure on their leaders at all levels on these issues so that they account. We call upon Civil Society for unity and focus. Let us stand with the people and be counted as change agents we are.
Lastly, CONGOMA calls upon Government to take these recommendations seriously because failure to see tangible movements on them shall force CSOs to invoke the CSO Grand Coalition and conduct District and National Demonstrations as our last resort so that together we can secure at least the future of our children.