Candidate nomination papers for the May 2014 tripartite elections have been completed. Malawians can now realistically start making their decisions on whom to vote for. For those not affiliated with any political party the choice is agonisingly difficult. There is not much difference between candidates, policy wise. However, in Malawi the electorate vote for individuals, not political parties. This allows the citizenry to vote for candidates on individual strengths, not political affiliation. It is a good thing and must be valued.
Yet, this does not mean political party policies are redundant. It is true that manifestos are a mere promise. Politicians are very good at making promises and very bad at fulfilling them. Still, it is important to use manifestos as a channel to gauge the thinking of political parties and individual candidates. It is important to know how much are the candidates aware of crucial issues affecting Malawi; a country always undergoing one crisis or another.
Various surveys have established that among key issues that could affect the forthcoming elections are food security, fertilizer subsidies, hunger, stabilisation of economy and recently cashgate. These indicators clearly show that strengthening spending power would go a way in improving people’s livelihoods. Lack of purchasing power is one of the reasons for huge unemployment, underemployment, low wages, cheap labour and high taxes.
The problem is that it is politicians to take us forward; and let us face it: Malawi politicians never have policies of national interest. All they have is a political survival strategy. Such strategies of course do coincide with interests at one point or another. Farm input subsidy programme is on of them. In Malawi it is easy to identify policy loopholes because nothing function efficiently. This is why it is important that politicians should not only outline their policies, they must also explain, fully how they would achieve it.
Which political party has policies to address the above-highlighted areas to improve people’s living standards? So far I would struggle to pick any. Chancellor Kaferapanjira, executive director of Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry recently told Weekend Nation saying: that 48% of people’s salary in Malawi goes to the taxman. Kaferapanjira is quoted: “unfortunately, our tax base is so narrow. The authorities should have found a way to widen the tax base so that everyone pays tax. Malawians are heavily taxed and this is not healthy.”
The issue of expanding tax base is widely acknowledged in Malawi. Former finance minister, Ken Lipenga discussed idea on a number of occasions. Yet, like most policy issues, the challenge is however to implement it. I think this is where Malawi could do with some economic lessons.
TruthDig, a news and current affairs website recently published what it called three most important economic lessons learned in thirty years following the Second World War. The first one is particularly important to our case:
“… the real job creators are consumers, whose rising wages generate jobs and growth. If average people don’t have decent wages there can be no real recovery and no sustained growth.”
TruthDig further notes that in those years business boomed because American workers were getting pay raises, therefore enough purchasing power to buy what expanding business had to offer. In my view, this is a simple lesson and it makes a lot of sense. Yet, no politician or political party ever see this as a policy. After all, it does not guarantee political survival.
Yet the second lesson from America shows that “the rich do better with a smaller share of a rapidly-growing economy than they do with a large share of an economy that is barely growing at all. This is why American economy grew faster between 1946 and 1974, on average, because the country created “the biggest middle class in history.”
I am not asking politicians to re-invent the wheel. These are free lessons for those who would learn. Malawi has the capacity grow if those in power are willing to do it, and everyone is a part of that power structure.
Philosopher, Michel Foucault reminds us that ‘one cannot own power’ and that ‘those who are ruled contribute to the empowerment of the rulers’.
This is a poignant and a timely reminder, as the country approach elections. We cannot afford to underestimate our own influence. We must demand and look for ideas that are for national interest and achievable, not ideas that are simply for someone’s political survival