MALAWI’s President Joyce Banda says more austerity lies in store for her long-suffering citizens before the country’s economy recovers. She is slashing her salary in the belief she should share their pain.
She inherited a mess last April when she was propelled into office after the sudden death of her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika.
"When I took over, the economy had almost collapsed. I told Malawians we needed to pass through difficult times," Ms Banda said in an interview yesterday. "Two days ago I even cut my own salary by 30% to show we are making sacrifices."
Her salary is $60,000 a year. When it declines to $42,000 it will be equivalent to what a mid -level South African civil servant earns.
"It is a very low salary, but most Malawians are getting just as little as that. So that’s fine, we have a nation to build. Perhaps the next president will get better than that," she said.
Her first task as president had been to repair relations with former colonial power Britain and other key donors such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), she said.
"(Donors) have provided $208m in the last six or seven weeks. That only happened because we got back on track with the IMF. Malawi is standing at a point now where we know the future is bright."
She set out her country’s priorities in a keynote speech yesterday at an African investment conference organised by Nedbank and its Togo-based partner, Ecobank.
Malawi’s deposits of uranium, oil and gas, bauxite, coal, phosphates and rare earths are attracting interest. The government is drafting a mining code to ensure the resources benefit the population as well.
"We didn’t know we were that rich, but we know now."
Malawi remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Ms Banda’s government has heavily devalued the kwacha. Consumer inflation quickened to 25.5% in August.
Ms Banda said a longer-term agreement with the IMF was essential and a team of fund experts would come to Malawi next month to conduct a review of national finances.
"They will want to see that we are staying on course. They want to see that we are introducing more austerity measures. I believe in the circumstances we do not have another choice," she said.