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Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Hon. Goodall Gondwe disclosed that Government is faced with tough choices and decisions to be put into motion in this budget following the looming economic challenges and the drying up budgetary support financing. He reiterated that Government is seriously considering ways and means of shrinking the 2015/16 National Budget following advice and concerns shared by key stakeholders including the IMF. The Minister made these remarks during the 2015/16 Pre–Budget Consultation Meeting conducted in Lilongwe at Bingu International Conference Centre on March 26, 2015.

The Minister called on the civil society “thinkers” and the academia present in the meeting to help provide only ideas that would help Malawi get towards self-sustenance and reduce its national budget from the bemoaned 40% of GDP, to the expected lower levels by international standards. He further disclosed that the ambitious view of Government now seeing to it that Malawi does everything possible to become a self-reliant country by 2020.

In his budget submission, the Executive Director for Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN), Mr. Dalitso Kubalasa warmly welcomed the idea of civil society proffering ideas for Government to act on; underscoring that ‘generating reflective and innovative ideas’ is what MEJN has always believed in generating over the past 13 years of pro-poor policy and participatory economic governance engagement. He was quick to emphasise that it will be important for all these ideas to be fully put into practice by Government.

Kubalasa tipped Government to (among others) consider adding the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development to the nine PILOT Ministries under the Public Sector Reforms Agenda to effectively kick-start the journey towards self-reliance, without wasting any precious time; taking advantage of the growing niche agriculture, irrigation and water development have to the potential for Malawi’s sustainable economic development.

The MEJN ED further advised Government to consider developing a clear exit strategy for the Farm Input Subsidise Programme (FISP) in its current form. He highlighted an urgent need for Government to seriously consider getting it reformed in the medium to long term, from both the important two angles of social protection and vulnerability targeting with its potentially rewarding focus towards economic productivity enhancement.

Specific mention was underscored for Government to do this by ensuring better targeting the vulnerability coverage obligation element through the Social Protection programme as articulated by the Social Support Policy; while the productivity enhancement component of the subsidy targeting should rather be directed towards the productive workforce and the commercially viable entrepreneurship development in line with the Next Exporting Economic Vision.

MEJN also advised Government to immediately consider allocating some adequate resources apportioned from the FISP, for the local produce market through institutions such as ADMARC that have the niche of covering the width and breadth of the country with marketing structures tried and tested, other than the middle-men and vendors who exploit the poor smallholder farmers.

On the current centralisation challenges of drugs procurement, MEJN enlightened Government of the growing concerns from across the districts and the DHOs on the need for urgently reconciling and fully accounting for all resources allocated towards the centralised drugs budget which on paper is allocated per district health office. Calls were made for the Government’s consideration towards exploring viable options for partial or full devolution of drug procurement to improve on the highly constrained and acrimonious Essential Health Package drugs access by DHOs and health facilities at the moment.

Going forward, MEJN ED urged Government to seriously invest in Water and Sanitation sector that would in turn help make huge savings from the current curative health budget by beefing up on the Preventive Care. He further informed Government to consider balancing the allocation of resources and investments for training, recruitment, deployment and retention of personnel, while dealing with the issues of the mismatch between the job market demands and the education sector supply in the middle of high vacancy rates in the public sector.

A case in point was made of the current worrying situation where Government has been allocating more resources for training of teachers, without supplementing adequate reciprocal resources for their deployment and absorption. The situation has resulted into having 10,600 trained teachers that have not yet been absorbed into the system for over 12 months, and yet there continue serious gaps in staffing in different schools at different levels, with equally high numbers of unemployed graduates joining every year.