Policy instability gets criticism from CSOs and others. But it seems nobody goes to the roots of the problem. Where do these instabilities come from?
The government needs to implement austerity because of a failing economy (caused by government policies among others). Austerity is always a hot potato: nobody likes to be on the receiving end. It is clear from an ethical point of view, that the poor, who are already at the limits of their wits’ ends cannot carry the brunt of the austerity, so it should be directed at those better positioned to carry the burden. The crux is: these are also the more powerful people, who have the means to divert austerity elsewhere, while the poor have little influence on government policies if any. So if austerity is implemented without courage of the President and Cabinet, then the brunt of the measures will hurt the poor. Our President did not show the courage and foresight, or does not even have the power, to direct the unpopular policies where they belong: at the rich. These are too powerful to let themselves be affected by the poor state of the country. So the austerity flows down the hill like water, and it ends up with those who have the least power (and money!) to begin with.
The poor students, many of whom live in very poor conditions, are on the receiving end of a government of which the President has claimed to be a “champion of higher education”. The already underfunded ministry of education was shortchanged in the budget with draconian budget cuts, and these drip down from the already underpaid staff to the students. Then the President, who appears to want to do the right thing, for a small part of the devastating fee increase, reverses the measure. The outcome is that the budget deficit grows, which affects our economy, and the students are left with unaffordable fees, and consequently many will drop out with only partly completed education. These partly completed students do not have the skills to develop the country, so we are in a vicious cycle of underdevelopment. And the rich and powerful remain where they are: in their ivory tower.
The same we see with the salaries of the civil servants: the budget approved (rightly) a salary increase for the lower scales, where a modest increase means a lot in terms of quality of life. But the higher, better paid, more powerful civil servants simply pushed government to also increase their salaries, which places an unreasonable burden on the tax payer.
Then the powerful MPs are capable of raising their community development fund instead of passing an unadultered ATI bill, just to mention one example with which they could serve the country and their constituents.
What should be done is: the President should have the foresight and the courage to lay the heaviest burden on those who can afford it: the rich and powerful. He should not let himself be placed in a position where he is faced with the choice between injustice (raising university fees with draconian percentages) and an unacceptable budget deficit rise. (Where he, in his well known indecisive style, chooses to cut a little off the injustice, but mainly keeps it intact, by funding more to the university, which raises the budget deficit again. He creates both evils when he faces one challenge.)
The government should push for strong anti-corruption practices. That means an unadultered ATI law. It means a change in the labour law that makes corruption of any scale a reason for instant dismissal (in government as well as private sector and NGO sector). It means tightly and legally defining the rights of any client of any government organization, a sensitization campaign for these rights, and an incorruptible complaints procedure.
Also government must revitalize the public service reform, and allow the vice-President Saulos Chilima to again follow up in his well know hyper-active style. So that our tax money is put to good use, and our government finally starts delivering services to us again.
And it means to not turn the budget deficit caused by corruption on the shoulders of the weak and powerless.