‘Let’s not despair’ 

The new Finance Minister, Dr. Maxwell Mkwezalamba, travels to Brussels, Belgium – the headquarters of the European Union (EU), next week to discuss a new partnership agreement. The trip comes in the wake of the ‘cashgate’ and the subsequent donor aid freeze. So what are his chances of success? In Brussels RAPHAEL TENTHANI sat down with DR. BRAVE NDISALE, Malawi Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the EU. Excerpts: 

Your Excellency, you’re describing Finance Minister Maxwell Mkwezalamba’s visit to the EU next week as both a ‘challenge’ and an ‘opportunity’, can you explain how you mean? 

 

We are also very delighted that the Minister of Finance, the Hon. Dr.  Mkwezalamba, is expected to visit Brussels to attend a meeting of Ministers of Finance from East and Southern Africa with the European Union (EU). During the visit, the minister will also hold important bilateral discussions with the EU and other partners. 

As you are already aware, the EU is one of Malawi’s largest development partners, the visit will indeed be a great opportunity for Malawi and for the minister to discuss issues of mutual interest to Malawi and the EU as well as to deepen the partnership and mutual trust.   

As a new minister, the Hon. Mkwezalamba will also have the opportunity to establish personal contacts with important personalities within the EU. 

You may, however, wish to note that Dr. Mkwezalamba worked closely with the EU when he served as a Commissioner for Economic Affairs at the African Union Commission. 

The minister will take advantage of the visit to brief the EU on the major social economic activities that have recently taken place in Malawi. 

I believe that the visit will also be a challenge to the minister in view of the “cashgate” phenomenon that has recently been discovered by the current government. 

Dr. Mkwezalamba will be here to negotiate the 11th European Development fund (EDF) for Malawi. Can you outline what is at stake here? 

The minister will specifically be briefed by the EU on the policy changes that the EU has recently introduced as well as on modality for funding future programmes for Malawi and the rest of the region. Dr. Mkwezalamba is also expected to present Malawi’s development plans in the sectors to be covered under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) for the next seven years. 

It is important to note that during the 10th EDF, the EU provided approximately €436 million for the period 2008 to 2013. Under the 11th EDF, the EU is expected to substantially increase its allocation to Malawi to a total amount of €560 million which will be used in the areas of agriculture and food security, education (secondary and vocational training) and governance. These are very critical sectors for the development of Malawi. 

Do you think Malawi stands a chance of getting the EU money in the wake of the challenges back home? 

As I said earlier on, the visit by Dr. Mkwezalamba will be both an “opportunity” and a “challenge”. A challenge in view of the ‘cashgate’ occurrence. There is no doubt that this is a serious problem for Malawi. 

I am, however, happy that the Malawi government has taken concrete measures to address the challenge. The appointment of Dr. Mkwezalamba as Minister of Finance is a very welcome development in view of his qualifications and great experience in the area of financial management. I believe that Dr. Mkwezalamba has what it takes to help improve financial management in Malawi and I am confident that he will have fruitful discussion with donor partners in Brussels. 

Can you outline how Malawi has benefited from the EU so far 

The EU is indeed a major donor for Malawi. The organisation has provided funding for implementation of development projects in almost all the sectors of Malawi’s economy since Malawi’s independence in 1964. The assistance has been provided to Malawi under various partnership agreements signed by the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of Countries (ACP). The current partnership agreement was signed in Cotonou, Benin in 2000. 

As I indicated earlier, Malawi was allocated Euro 436 million under the 10th EDF. In addition, the EU has also provided the following additional resourcesto Malawi:- 

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– €59.9 million additional budget support;

 

– €21.7 million for the restructuring the sugar sector;

– €1.8 million for the Trust Fund;

– €30 million for Malawi Global Loan Scheme III;

– €32 million for Peri Urban Water Project;

 

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– €87 million for good performance – these funds are yet to be fully disbursed; and- €25 million for the MDG initiative.

 

Through trade cooperation, Malawi has also benefited from preferential market access under “Everything But Arms“ (EBA) initiative provided by the EU. Under this initiative, Malawi exports to the EU many products duty free and quota free. To this effect, the EU is one of Malawi’s major trading partners.

 

On the same score, how has Malawi benefited from the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group of Countries (ACP) and EU agreement, the so-called Cotonou Agreement?

 

The African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of Countries (ACP) is an

organisation created under the Georgetown Agreement of 1975. It is

composed of 48 countries from Sub-Saharan Africa, 16 from the Caribbean and 15 from the Pacific regions. The 79 ACP countries, with the exception of Cuba, are signatories to the Cotonou Agreement that is also known as the “ACP-EU Partnership Agreement” which binds the ACP to the European Union (EU). The development Cooperation between the ACP and the EU has been administered under various partnership agreements which were signed in Yaoundé in Cameroon and Lomé in Togo. The Cotonou Agreement is the latest partnership agreement between the EU and the ACP Group.

 

The agreement was signed in June, 2000 by 78 ACP countries and 15 EU member states. It is designed to last for a period of 20 years and will thus come to an end in 2020. The objective of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement is to reduce and eventually eradicate poverty, promote sustainable development and the gradual integration of the ACP countries into the world economy.

 

Malawi is one of the major beneficiaries of the assistance that the EU provides under the framework of the ACP-EU Cotonou Agreement Cooperation. The ACP as a group has worked hard in helping to mobilise resources from the EU that have been used for the implementation of development projects in its Member States. The EU is currently on its 10th EDF for the period of 2009-2013 with a budget of € 22.7 billion. The budget is broken down as follows: 

1. €17.766 billion to the national and regional indicative programmes (i.e. 81% of the total); 

2. €2.700 billion to intra-ACP and intra-regional cooperation; and 

3. €1.500 billion to Investment Facilities (7% of the total).

 

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The ACP has indeed acted as an important link between its member

states and the EU. The ACP is currently planning to undertake major

institutional reforms with the objective of transforming itself into a more vibrant organisation that will play a more effective role on the international scene in future. The Mission is actively involved in this important process.

 

It is important that Malawi and the Southern Africa Region play an important role in ensuring that the reformed ACP is structured in such a way that it can more effectively help address the development challenge of the Southern Africa region and the ACP as a whole.

 

How has the current happenings at Capital Hill – I’m talking about the infamous “cashgate” – affected your work as a representative for Malawi in perhaps the largest economic bloc in the world?

 

The Embassy of the Republic of Malawi is accredited to Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands and Switzerland. In addition, the embassy is also a permanent mission to the EU and other multilateral institutions that are based in these countries such as the ACP, UNESCO, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Criminal Court (ICC), International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), World Customs Organisation (WCO), World Food Programme (WFP), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), just to mention but a few.

 

So, you see, we are one of key players in Malawi’s mobilisation of development assistance. Without doubt, the recent developments at Capital Hill pose a major challenge in the execution of our mandate. The infamous ‘cashgate’ gives a negative image because of the theft of the well-intended resources meant for socio-economic development. This is unfortunate and frustrating considering that this has happened at a time when we are negotiating future EU assistance to Malawi. 

The EU has in the past considered Malawi as a star performer in the implementation of development assistance. In addition, due to the global financial (economic) crisis, development partners are exercising greater scrutiny of utilisation of development aid. 

It is, however, pleasing to note that the government of Malawi has taken decisive measures aimed at rooting out the financial mismanagement by a few individuals. This is welcome development not only to this mission but to our development partners as well. 

We are all working towards full restoration of trust and confidence to regain our status as one of the star performers in the utilisation of EDF funds amongst the 79 ACP member states. 

Your Excellency, President Joyce Banda was supposed to attend the

European development Days on November 26 and 27. When she cancelled at the last minute, there was talk on the social media that the European Union had banned from entering the EU because of what is happening at Capital Hill? 

The rumours were unfounded and deeply regrettable. It is unfortunate

that some Malawians, who are supposed to be patriotic, chose to publish false stories against their own country and leadership. International visits by the Heads of State are arranged through diplomatic channels. Malawi is represented by this Mission and the EU is represented by the Mission in Lilongwe. As part of the expenditure control measures, the President of the Republic of Malawi, Dr. Joyce Banda, cancelled the visit and the information was relayed to the EU through this Mission.

 

If anyone wanted more information on this matter, they could have checked with us or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation or through the EU Delegation in Lilongwe.

 

You may wish to note that under the ACP – EU Partnership Agreement,

there are procedures that are followed by either party before any form of cooperation is suspended. Suspension of aid or travel is done in a transparent and consultative manner. The ban story was a fabrication.

 

Any last words, Your Excellency? 

We are indeed facing a national tragedy as indicated by Her Excellency the President. Indeed, we feel the pain and frustration. 

We should, however, not despair. Many countries have faced similar challenges and have come out stronger than before. We should indeed draw lessons from this experience and move forward. What is important at this stage are measures that the government is putting in place to address this problem and the actions being undertaken. There is need for us to rally behind the efforts of the government and Her Excellency the President in order to ensure that the measures are implemented effectively for the benefit of all the people of Malawi and for building a prosperous future. 

To end, allow me to quote a verse in the Bible. Proverbs 27:18: He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruits, and he who looks after his master will be honoured

In this comparison, we see a picture of competence and loyalty. The master is like the fig tree, providing for the needs of his servant. But if the tree is not tended, no one benefits. If the master is not looked after, he won’t have the resources to honour his servant. 

We may not talk about the master/servant title but today let us talk about Malawi and the citizen, I mean, Malawi and us, all of us. To tend to our source of provision (Malawi) is to take care of ourselves. So let us please help our country, let us help ourselves.

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