100 days of Tonse Alliance: A perspective

By Bernard Mphepo

According to 2018 National Statistical Office (NSO) about 9 million Malawians are living below poverty line. Given this situation, if at all Malawi has to move forward,  this unacceptable prevailing social-economic state of affairs must be addressed. The global pandemic of Covid-19 is exacerbating numerous  serious social economic challenges. Malawi needs an urgent undertaking of initiatives aimed at social and economic transformation to reduce number of people wallowing in abject poverty.

Malawi’s underdevelopment results from a number of factors that includes dependence on rain-fed agriculture, and low levels of social capital, technical and social ingenuity. Most importantly, Malawi’s neopatrimonial system and structures keep Malawi’s development assistance from being used equitably, efficiently, on pro-poor expenditures, or for the betterment of the nation as a whole. Neopatrimonialism also undermines private sector growth by creating an environment where the rule of law is weak, where investment flies in the face of risks and low returns, and where the administration finds it impossible to operate within its budget or to undertake necessary structural reforms.

In June 2020 Malawians vented their anger by voting Democratic Progressive party out of power due to inability of the state to supply the basic requirements of life – adequate health care, sufficient food, quality education, security and protection, justice or a regulatory environment that supports economic activity. Malawi’s major reforms, in areas such as decentralization, land tenure, the civil service, fiscal management and privatization have generated few developmental or democratic benefits for the bulk of the population.

Will people manage to eat three times?

The Tonse Alliance government led by Malawi Congress of Party president Dr Lazarus Chakwera campaigned in all the regions of Malawi to transform the country into middle income economy by building a capable democratic development estate. During his inaugural speech Chakwera won the hearts of Malawians through promising them to end tribal nepotism and corruption, new era of openness with trimmed presidential powers and great transparency. Below is the analysis of first 100 days of Tonse Alliance in government.

During 100 days briefing report to Malawians Chakwera had this to say and I quote: “The focus of my administration for the first 100 days has been to turn Malawi around,” Chakwera said. “For, our nation has long been a flooding ship sailing in hostile waters and heading in the wrong direction. As any good sailor will tell you, stopping a flooding ship from sinking and turning around in such hostile conditions of the pandemic, are not small feats.”

He said the Malawians should expect to continue sailing in “the unsafe waters and worn out vessel” for a while before they see a change.

While this statement was meant to assure Malawians to be patient since the promises that Tonse government could not be achieved in short term. The   expectations of Malawians was to see the government doing business unusual other than the business as usual.

 The first litmus test was the appointment of ministers and advisers. The reactions of Malawians revealed that Malawians were not happy with the appointments. The president failed to fulfill his commitment to end tribalism and nepotism in the selection of cabinet. The citizens expressed their dissatisfaction and they alleged that the Tonse Alliance cabinet is dominated by people of Central Region and this was exacerbated by pointing relations that includes husband and wife in the cabinet. Malawians were expecting an inclusive cabinet full of professionals rather than a cabinet that aims at political appeasement that benefit people from selected families and geographical locations.

Malawi being an agricultural country most of the campaign promises by current Tonse Alliance government was dominated by promises to transform agriculture sector in order to ensure food security, improved income and creation of employment. As a matter of fact elections in Malawi are won or lost based on promises on food security and creation of job opportunities.

Going through Tonse Alliance manifestos the campaign centered on production and productivity issues, markets and marketing issues, agriculture services and value addition issues. Tonse Alliance partners outlined several key initiatives including universal fertilizer subsidy to guarantee food security for every households and initiatives to create I million jobs .

So far the main yardstick to measure commitment on the fulfillment of these is what was emphasized in state of Nation Address and ministerial statement. In United Transformation Movement, one of the major Tonse Alliance partner states that and I quote: “Agriculture programmes in Malawi have placed disproportionate emphasis on food security other than commercialization of the sector. This is a short term perspective. To this effect huge amount of the resources have been used for input subsidies at the expense of equally important aspects of agriculture production and diversification.

Unfortunately the current Tonse Alliance budget has just done that. It has increased allocation in affordable farm inputs by almost 350%. The current budget on subsidy is at MK160.2 billion. On the contrary livestock and fish production has been reduced from MK10.4 billion to MK2.4 billion representing – 77% of the allocation. This means that the budget has put more emphasis on mind blowing affordable farm inputs which is the most expensive subsidy in history of the country.

This allocation is overshadowing other important aspects in agriculture sector. I believe that without reforming this allocation Malawians will be financing heavily through this unsustainable allocation. Within the 100 days of Tonse Alliance government, it has failed to demonstrate on how the government is committed in commercializing agriculture that would help in much touted creation of one million jobs within the first year of the government.

Apart from maintaining Shire valley Transformation Project it is sad to note that the Tonse Alliance government has failed in demonstrating their commitment in irrigation technologies in face climate change effects. In creation of markets for smallholder farmers it is clear that the government has failed to deliver its promise by failing to put a clear roadmap on how to reform Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC).

ADMARC remains the most viable and trusted agriculture markets for millions even in the hard to reach communities because of its wide network. It is hard to see any commitment of reversing its diminishing role   in agriculture markets.

A hospital ward: The health sector needs additional funding

The 2020 Food Security Malawi Vulnerability assessment reveals that about 2.6 million Malawians will be food secure. Studies carried out by Centre for Social Concern through their monthly Basic Needs basket has revealed that the cost of living is increasing every month due to an increase in food prices.

The total cost of living in June was MK197,000. With majority of Malawians receiving less than MK100,000 majority of Malawians will not be able to buy food at household hence eating three times a day will remain a farfetched dream.

It is however sad to note that the government is not doing enough to ensure that food that includes maize is available to citizens before the next harvesting season. The MK10bilion allocated in the current proposed budget is not enough to buy enough maize. If the situation is not checked more Malawians will be food insecure during the Tonse Alliance Government than in previous governments.

In fighting corruption the government must go beyond just arresting people with corruption cases. Citizens are waiting for the conclusion of the cases and how they can claim back their wealth to used for social services.

In conclusion the first 100 days of Tonse Alliance Government is mixed bag. The negative effects of covid-19 pandemic exacerbates the challenges of  low revenue collection among other things. Despite these challenges the citizens were expecting creation of strong foundation that would help the government to deliver its promises. Through public reaction it is clear that the current government has a daunting task to regain the public trust that lead to their victory in June, 2020.

With the understanding that the Tonse Alliance government has only been in office for only over 100 days. It is however hard to measure their success and failures within a given time frame of 100 days. This is however, a call for Tonse Alliance government to develop a clear roadmap that will be able to capture milestones achieved towards the attainment of the campaign promises.  The first 100 days was supposed to create a strong foundation that will help this government to achieve its much touted promises.

From the above analysis it can be concluded that the first 100 days was a mixed bag with both negative and positive developments. The new Tonse Alliance government should consolidate its gains. In order to gain public trust the Tonse Alliance government had in June 2020, it needs to implement harmonized campaign manifestos.

From the reactions of citizens on the report of the 100 days in power by Tonse Alliance government, it is clear that the Malawians had high expectations from the new government. Citizens are still waiting for fulfillment of various promises made during campaign period. To achieve promises during campaign period requires  doing business unusual not as usual.

*Mphepo is Programme Officer: Economic Governance at the Centre for Social Concern in Lilongwe