Leader of the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) Atupele Muluzi has bemoaned the snail’s pace at which government authorities are moving towards countering challenges facing the country.
Responding to the state of the nation address made by President Joyce Banda, during the opening of the budget session of parliament last Friday, Muluzi said on Tuesday that there is need for the country to infuse a sense of urgency in the way it does its business, especially in fast tracking structural transformation saying, “frankly speaking, time is not on our side”.
“This therefore means that while articulating a vision is important, it is the disciplined approach to delivery and implementation of this vision that really matters. That is, a sharpened focus on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of our delivery chain and making sure that whatever it is that we pledge to do, really improves both the lives of Malawians and it’s positioning globally,” he said.
Muluzi, who was very diplomatic in his approach, pointed out that the public sector, which is the main engine for delivering on the reforms outlined in President Banda’s speech, is weak and requires urgent and systematic reforms.
“For example, the poor credibility of our national budget continues to undermine further prospects for macro-economic stability and growth. Overspending, untargeted expenditures; weak financial controls are some of these symptomatic failures,” he said.
The UDF president said the Malawians are still looking for the implementation of earlier statements which pledged the institution of measures such as reduction of the size of cabinet, tight budgetary controls and reduced travel expenditures.
He also said the country is yet to see demonstrable progress on pay roll audits and elimination of ghost workers within the public sector.
“Mr Speaker: It is impossible to deliver on the ambitious reform program outlined by the State President if our public sector systems are not fine tuned and incentivized with a sense of urgency to deliver,” he said.
Muluzi also observed that Malawi registers as a country with one of the lowest skilled labour capacities in comparison to its neighbors.
“For example, we have the lowest enrolment rates in our tertiary institutions-at 0.4% and our curricula neither responds to labour market needs nor is it informed by our critical partner, the private sector. Our access, quality and funding indicators for TEVET feature the lowest in the region. The skills gap especially in our growth areas: mining, agriculture, tourism and construction are extremely shocking,” he said.
He said whilst all the reforms that Her Excellency has outlined in her speech are important, “it is really the fast tracking of the pace of our progress towards agricultural diversification that matters and it is currently moving at snail’s pace.”
The UDF president said it is sad that access to financial services and information remains weak, transport systems and markets are scarce and expensive, low productivity and land holdings/tenure issues also require urgent action.
He reminded the government that it is absolutely critical to remember that the ability of the country’s investment climate to flourish is heavily dependent on a well functioning public sector that guarantees against policy reversals and irregularities which he said is not yet the case in Malawi.
Muluzi cited limited access to finance, transportation, informal practices, electricity and tax rates as areas that continue to hamper private sector growth.
He however recommended that as a country there is need to manage the public purse in a prudent manner and strengthen the ability of institutions of oversight to oversee the use and sanction possible abuse of these resources.
“It is, therefore important that we strengthen our governance institutions such as the Anti-corruption Bureau, the offices of the Accountant General and the Auditor General in order to ensure that holders of office entrusted with public funds act transparently in the usage and reporting of such funds.
“The establishment of performance benchmarks and indicators through which government spending can be regularly audited and validated by independent institutions, cannot be overemphasized”.
He said the current practice leaves a lot to be desired and “without a clearly designed system, the country would fail to hold anyone accountable for the utilization of taxpayers’ money. We must prioritize on the development of an efficient public sector that is incentivized to deliver”.
He said to do this requires the country to embrace the mantra: ‘business unusual’ and infuse a sense of urgency and delivery by among other things managing the country’s public purse and accounting for it better, focusing on delivering results that really change Malawian lives, prioritizing and sequencing reforms without reversals and “changing our mindset towards aid relationships.”
Two of Malawi’s opposition parties represented in Parliament—the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Malawi Congress Party (MCP)— officially responded to President Banda’s State of the Nation Address on Monday, with DPP describing it as “a catalogue of wishful thinking”.
MCP, on the other hand, asked government “to walk the talk and find quick fixes to economic challenges” facing the country.