Updated: Jan 21, 2020
Rising from the blue bench to address fellow parliamentarians on 27 May 2016, the outspoken Juliana Lunguzi asserted herself as a symbol of hope for Malawi’s political and development future. The suspicion that she was going to utter the customary rhetoric about the devastated health system in Malawi was quickly banished by the change of focus the topic of the day was designed to deliver. Her challenge of denouncing the government’s appetite for more loans and tasking it to, instead, take stock of the achievements of the debt that has piled up since the debt relief of the 2000s, would only be frowned upon by the learned members of the opposite side of the bench. For those on both sides of the bench with a persistent inclination to limited understanding, or interest, deliberate neglect carried the day. As usual.
As this website has always argued, debt for a developing country ought to be invested in physical assets that will energize the development of more factors of production. It is a solid way to create wealth for Malawi that will set it on the path to sustainable development. Consequently, Malawi should have not only grown in its economic and social capital, but should have made it easier – after more than a decade since the HIPC relief smiled on us – to amortize our growing debt burdens to the rest of the world.
So, Ms. Lunguzi’s query to the Parliament should have primarily triggered, to both government and opposition sides, that there has not been such analysis done in the country to inform its position regarding future debt obligations. The recently approved $500 million Lake Malawi Water Project, tainted with an unwarranted rush for yet another mortgage, makes it clear that government’s operational mentality is geared to risking it all even when sense points the other way. The attitude of the contractor for the project, which orients towards dismissing the rationale for clarity to the citizens, while placing itself on the moral low-ground backed by signatures on a contract, signals the unwillingness of all parties to the agreement to stick to protocol that ensures the highest protections for the liable parties to the loan, Malawi’s citizens.
As we argued in our article of 13 February 2017, Malawi is also bankrolling Account #1 to finance consumption, a perilous means of supporting human capacity investments, with the recent loan from the PTA Bank a testimony of the notion. With the unique characteristic of the difficulty to pin accountability when all the food the PTA Bank loan helped purchase is flushed away, these loans double as the perfect avenues for inflating the intensity of a problem for the sake of theft. And clearly, the investments backed by other loans and past development are too inadequate to sustain the economy and fail to emancipate the country from the whims of creditors. The vicious cycle of debt fueling more debt continues.
But the hope that Ms. Lunguzi inspires is one of leadership. The list of loans the government has gotten since 2008 (only from India, to the tune of US $76.5 million) that she presented to Parliament placed the responsibility of evaluating the merits of these loans in catalyzing the prospects of the economy’s movement to a better and brighter future. To date, that part of the questionnaire remains blank. No government of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), United Democratic Front (UDF), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, twice) and People’s Party (PP) regimes has been able to promise beyond the anticipated economic evolutions the loans would bring. In a nutshell, Ms. Lunguzi’s query illustrates the failures of all major political parties in developing the country. Today, loans such as these have expanded and multiplied.
The positive picture that Ms. Lunguzi’s leadership demonstrates today is not one that implies perfect leaders are what Malawi needs to develop. Far from it. In fact, this website believes that while Ms. Lunguzi’s recent Twitter inclination towards doing away with a usually defunct and compromised Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) may be right, it is right only to the extent that government seems to continuously fail at giving the institution the space to excel. We would rather she presses on with providing solutions to the ACB's shortsightedness, and making use of the investments taxpayers have made into it for the past years - and promote its autonomy as a public institution. In line with our strongly-held beliefs, such solutions should keep such entities focused on the impartial execution of their mandates, as given by law. So, there is some continual panel beating any leader requires to get better at their work, and Ms. Lunguzi is no exception.
But we are not hearing enough clatters in Parliament that make as much sense as such calls to rational soul-searching if the future of our children will be riddled with more joy than languish. It adds to her earlier query about tractors that have never made their way to the poor Malawian farmers they were intended for, a query that keeps many Members of the August House quiet with guilt. Aside from Ms. Lunguzi’s timely calls, Kamlepo Kalua is another that has done exceptionally well. Mr. Kalua’s voice has kept the country consistently reminded of the ills we need to address in the involvement of high-profile elites in Cashgate. Even if there were flaws in Mr. Kalua’s arguments, we maintain that his intense insistence is instrumental in coercing the leadership of the DPP to clean up some dirt among its leaders. In the meantime, they surely cast a silencing silhouette over the chair of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, his boss.
Based on the foregoing, Malawi evidently needs a fresh voice to whisper into the nation’s mentality for substantive change. And Ms. Lunguzi’s own rise in politics testifies strongly, having won a parliamentary seat against candidates whose prowess was vested in tons of cash to buy constituents. The success of her manifesto in 2009, fully loaded with issues, strategies, pragmatism and hope instead hinted Malawi’s readiness to move forward. And, although her inclination to development has shown a skewed advocacy to the health sector – naturally, as Chair of the Parliamentary Health Committee, her drive for Malawi’s development seems more authentic. More believable.
There are several youthful voices in the Malawi Parliament that are on mute, mainly because of the hegemonic tendencies of party hierarchies that have a historical affinity for age. The lessons from Ms. Lunguzi’s political career show that even the elders are willing to jump on board with her youthful message, as in how her coinage, Ndizotheka! seems to have jumped on Lazarus Chakwera’s campaign trail.
If we are to bet on youthful takeover of Malawi’s leadership, we have a perfect example of imperfection that is geared for much greatness.
All we probably need is a multiplication of such voices and devotion, and youths to take the chance.