Development is a generic word meaning different things to different people. Movement from the Stone Age to the Iron Age was considered to be development. It was development when woven clothes made at Lanark in Scotland were introduced by the colonialists. Similarly, it was development when the colonial government went around the country drilling the first boreholes for citizens to drink clean water. The introduction of the saucepan radio was also development. It was development when people started riding buses instead of open bodied trucks. It is needless to mention the introduction of desktop, laptop computers and internet as development. The narrative is intended to confirm in our minds that development is not one thing and it is a continuous process.
It is sad that the word development has been politicized and narrowed down in current times to mean the construction of tarmac roads, school blocks, hospitals and universities. In other countries, development is not only physical projects; it includes creation of job opportunities, modern equipment for investigating food security issues, modern equipment in hospitals, buying of food from vending and general improvement of quality of life of ordinary citizens, construction of underground roads instead of destroying the landscape.
The Republic of Ireland for instance is reported to have experienced rapid economic growth during the mid 1990 to 2000 characterized by high personal incomes, improved quality of life and labor was in short supply on the job market. Did that mean Ireland was not a developed country? Just recently, Ireland was almost on the brink of bankruptcy had it not been for rescue funds from the European Union. Does that mean Ireland has now become a developing country? In the case of Malawi, will development stop after the entire physical infrastructure is completed? Then will future generations stop having governments because all roads are bituminized?
From the forgoing discussions, it is obvious that national development is a continuous process. In Malawi development started with the arrival of missionaries. They introduced new types of flowers, trees, clinics, tobacco, tea. schools and different types of sport. It is a fact that churches have delivered more real development to the people in rural areas than all the governments, the World Bank and aid agencies combined. The colonial government constructed state residences, government offices in all districts and Zomba the capital city. Founding president late Dr Banda constructed roads, the university of Malawi, the capital city in Lilongwe, installed the satellite earth station at Kanjedza. Dr Muluzi constructed additional schools, hospitals, additional roads, television station, bridges, cello phones and liberated the economy. The incumbent government has intensified bituminization of roads and the construction of the Shire-Zambezi Inland Port. When all these are added up, they constitute national economic development.
National economic development does not take place in a vacuum. The major problem in Malawi is that development is politicized. What we needed to do after the introduction of democracy should have been to conduct fundamental political and economic reforms. The political reform should have included institutional power structures and its devolution from the centre to local governments. Similarly, the economic reforms should have included the introduction of a new tax regime, budgeting and market liberalization. A good taxation system must be designed to fuel entrepreneurial culture because most people live on the bottom of the food value chain.
No wonder until today, fifteen years after the introduction of democracy, political power is still at the centre. The underlying aim is to associate development projects with an individual when development is a human right. This is done by maintaining a thin line between the state and the political party in power. Similarly, the budgeting and expenditure processes are still centralized. This is corruption at best. Economist Okubo Tochimichi is reported to have advised a prefectural government in Japan in 1878 that it would take thirty years for Japan to realize sustainable development. Similarly chairman Mao of China is also reported to have predicted China to become an economic giant in forty years.
The Japanese economist explained that the first ten years is needed for planning, overcoming initial difficulties and establishing necessary institutions for monitoring and evaluation. The second decade is needed for re-organizing civil service delivery systems and establishing strong local government institutions. The third decade is needed for attaining economic growth. There is often political euphoria when a political party gets into government. What is often forgotten is that there cannot be sustainable economic growth without budget surpluses.
The attainment of sustainable economic development is a national responsibility for every citizen. It is the sum total of the efforts of all citizens regardless of ethic affiliation. That is how other countries realized fast economic development such as Germany and Japan after the Second War World in 1945. Similarly countries of South East Asia have realized fast economic development through education, governance and transparency. It is the collective effort of different skills that develops a country. It is like a football team; just imagine all players in a national team having the skills of a goalkeeper, who would score goals?
It is necessary for all citizens to know the systems of budgeting being used by their governments. The best budgeting system generates more revenue than expenditure with the surplus kept in a reserve for sustaining economic growth. The second system of budgeting maintains a balance between revenue generated and expenditures. No aid money is needed. The worst budgeting system is deficit financing which allows expenditure to exceed revenue.