President Joyce Banda and her trusted lieutenants on economic reforms—Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) Governor Charles Chuka and Finance Minister Dr. Ken Lipenga, have gone to town on the National Statistical Office (NSO).
They want to use the statistical body as justification for their lack of foresight, poor judgement, mediocre situational analysis and the incompetent implementation of economic reforms that they have no clue about other than that they came on advice from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
And so, the trio has gone flat out to discredit probably one of the remaining independent government institutions in the country.
I am evensurprised that Lipenga of all people should join this party that is vilifying NSO.
Heck, the doctor of letters—as I like to call Lipenga—was the Minister of Economic Planning and Development (EP&D) before moving to Treasury.
By virtue of that position, he was directly responsible for NSO given that it reports to EP&D. Is Lipenga saying that he presided over the cooking up and sexing up of critical statistical information, including national accounts?
I mean, this is the Lipenga that oversaw the embellishment of revenue figures under the Bingu wa Mutharika administration. This is the fellow who was in-charge when budget director Dr. Dalitso Kabambe ordered the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) to borrow K15 billion from local commercial banks and pretend it is government tax revenue.
This is the minister who went ahead to lie to Parliament and the whole country that the lopsided zero-deficit budget was working. As we all discovered, everything was one big fat lie.
The Finance Minister was only exonerated by a sham of an investigation headed by Vice-President Khumbo Kachali and comprised other Cabinet dogs such as Lipenga’s immediate predecessor, Ken Kandodo.
Now, if Lipenga presided over fake statistics churned out by NSO and was in charge during the MRA revenue scandal, why is he still in government overseeing the most important ministry in the country? Has Mrs. Banda asked Lipenga how NSO sexed-up data?
As for Chuka, well, I personally like the man. He is affable, humble and articulate. In fact, I have respected the guy for a long time.
But I have no respect for his brand of economics. I mean, this is the fellow who was general manager responsible for economic services when the RBM, between 2000 and 2002, pursued the very same policies being implemented now into disastrous results—a recession.
At that time, the central bank was so obsessed with controlling inflation that they raised interest rates so high that businesses could not borrow anymore and some crushed out, including a generation of high-employing manufacturers. For those that survived, it took years to recover.
Even at that time, the goal was to remain on track of the IMF-supported Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). Was NSO at fault as well at the time? I think that real professionals, when they have messed up, own up their mistakes—they do not blame others.
As for President Banda, I wish she would learn to keep silent on matters that are beyond her comprehension instead of parroting talking points that she cannot explain on her own.
I mean, listen to this embarrassing admission: “We noted that the impact of the [economic] reforms was under-estimated due to inaccurate information and data that was used from the previous administration.”
Which specific data was wrong? At what point did she realise that? Why did her administration plough ahead with controversial reforms without thorough due-diligence?
Surely, her government must have known that by executing the new policies, she was taking a risk, but what kind of chief executive officer takes uncalculated risks as evidenced by the inability to understand a problem before implementing a solution for it that the executor does not understand? Because doing so is recklessness of the highest order.
Does an enterprise as big as Malawi, with around 14 million people, deserve reckless leadership? When you are making decisions that affect millions, you have to do so with an abundance of caution. Does anyone read caution in all this?
Is this the kind of leadership that foreign donors are praising? Oh, yeah, I know why the West, including the face of the Washington Consensus herself—IMF managing director Christine Lagarde—is in Mrs. Banda’s tank.
Banda is their creation and they desperately want her to succeed because if she fails, the Washington Consensus will have failed and will be mercilessly buried, leaving a sleepy West waking up to a new world order in which the balanced economic system of China—which presently is the most successful—becomes the model for developing countries and the tired trickle down theories get thrown under the bus or, if lucky, left behind in the 20th century as everyone jumps on the 21st century train with China at the wheel.
To the West, Joyce Banda is their hope for the revival and continued relevance of the IMF and whatever is left of the Bretton Woods Accord, which, if truth be told—lost its respect even before Wall Street suicide-bombed itself in 2008.