Lack of supporting policy blurs Bingu’s export vision

The Daily Times, April 08, 2009

President Bingu wa Mutharika’s 2004 inauguration vision of turning Malawi into a producing and exporting nation has no policies backing its realisation five years after being pronounced by the president, the Malawi Economic Justice Network -- MEJN has observed.

In its economic growth map, the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy launched in 2006, government has emphasised the need for developing a more conducive set of policies that would stimulate private sector investment and trade in the immediate future as a way of promoting production and improving export.

MEJN executive director Andrew Kumbatira says the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Private Sector Development should have come up with a policy to facilitate the realization of the president’s vision.

“In fact, Malawi as a country does not have any trade policy at all. The last policy on trade was enacted in 1998 but this is now invalid because it has been overtaken by developments,” said Kumbatira.

He was speaking in Lilongwe during a workshop on trade-policy-making in Malawi organised by MEJN and a Geneva-Based trade policy organization, CUTS International.

Kumbatira said during consultations, it has been established that policy making in Malawi is “obscure, inconsistent and not transparent”.

“The process [of policy making in Malawi] is not clear. It’s very sketchy,” said Kumbatira, adding that: “While some policies are made based on demand and consultations, others come from presidential directives and ministerial orders or notices.”

Minister of Trade Henry Mussa admitted in an interview on Monday that his ministry is yet to come up with policy support for the president’s vision but assured the industry that the blue print was in its final stages to support trade and investment in the country.

He said the president’s vision of transforming Malawi from a “predominantly importing and consuming nation to a producing and exporting nation” was the guiding principle in the development of the two policies.

“We have consulted widely and the draft documents on these policies are just being finalized. We will be taking them to cabinet soon and we will go full throttle in implementing them once we bounce back into power after the May elections,” said Mussa.

Under the project MEJN is implementing with CUTS International, meetings with major stakeholders and desk reviews have been undertaken in the country on the trade policy making process in Malawi.

This is part of the broader project CUTS is implementing in Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The whole project is known as Fostering Equity and Accountability in the Trade System (FEATS) and its main aim is to link trade policy with development and poverty reduction programmes in the country.

Director of CUTS International Atul Kaushik said in an interview policy making needs to be well-cordinated to ensure that various policies do not contradict and are up-to-date and in line with overall national development strategies.

“For example, while the president’s vision is that of making Malawi a producing and export nation, the last trade policy developed in 1998 is focused on import substitution. Malawi needs a new policy to support the new political direction,” said Kaushik.

He said Malawi faces critical challenges being landlocked by nature and having a poor infrastructure saying these could make it difficult for the country to realise trade and economic development if not addressed.

Kaushik said his organisation has the capacity to not only strengthen Malawi’s capacity in policy development but it can also influence donors to help the country address constraints that hinders the realization of its trade and economic development goal.