Friday, May 2, 2014

Centre for Social Concern Says: The Vulnerable, Especially Children, to Bear the Brunt of Budget Cuts

Centre for Social Concern March Urban Basic Needs Basket

The Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) is troubled by macro-fiscal framework indications that Malawi will have a tightened resource envelope over the medium term.

“While domestic revenue effort is expected to run on its continued rising trend,
grants are to be reduced from their seemingly peak level in 2012” [Public Expenditure Review (PER 2013)]. Thus, a tight macroeconomic and fiscal framework coupled with a high level of non-discretionary spending is seen by the Ministry of Finance [MoF] as leaving little fiscal space for funding new policy and strategic initiatives. It is the government’s expectation that policy responses must restrain and prioritize expenditures and improve efficiency while meeting the objectives of growth and social protection.

This is an alarming situation as it signals cuts in budget allocations and prioritization of resources including in the key social sectors. While CfSC appreciates the fact that Malawi is currently undergoing an economic turmoil, it is at the same time worried that it is children that will bear the brunt of the anticipated budget cuts because the sector has received very little attention in terms of budgetary allocations by the government of Malawi.

Children make up the biggest proportion of Malawi’s population and yet they represent the poorest segment of Malawi’s population due to their disadvantaged position and policy skew against them. The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS), the country’s overarching development policy tool recognizes that investing in child and youth development and empowerment is one of the pillars of the country’s development programmes. Malawi is a signatory and a party to several conventions, declaration and human rights instruments regarding children however the resource allocation to child needs shows that despite having in place the policy framework, implementation remains a challenge.

Experiences on the ground indicate that as the resource envelope is shrinking it is the child activities and similar social sectors that are negatively affected by budget cuts while non-MGDS areas priority areas get more resources.

Of particular concern is the reality that for a long time, government has relegated the support that its children require in the hands of the donors. Thus, with the donors pulling off the plug, it means that Malawi’s children are currently in a state
of utmost vulnerability. Donor over reliance puts the welfare of children in uncertain territory, and this was confirmed when Global Fund reduced its support to Malawi government in the sector of HIV and AIDS, a situation which led to many
children missing out on education support which was being provided through NAC.

In the light of the current economic situation, CfSC recommends the following:

1) Malawi government to scale up its contribution to development budgets that are intended to provide social support and cash transfers to children and to households with OVCs. Key allocations to children in the budgets have a heavy donor over-reliance which affects ownership and continuity when donor funding delays or are

Such dynamics can affect progress in the implementation of policies and laws that promote the welfare of children and OVC.

2) The need to gradually reduce donor dependence in children and OVC programs:

3) Translate the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act 2010 into the annual budgets: Since the enactment of the law, the budgets have not allocated considerable sums of money for the meaningful realization of the rights of children and those of OVC enshrined in the Act. Much of Government operations have taken a business as usual
attitude. Continued lack of willingness to finance the provisions of the Act will render the law ineffective as it will offer no meaningful protection to children.

4) Strengthening Sectoral Coordination: The Children and OVC sector has its activities being implemented by various Government ministries and departments. Each department is guided by its own set of policies and guided by unique set of priorities. Lack of coordination among the line ministries will result into inefficient use of resources and will lead to low results in the children and OVC sector.

5) Budgets for departments and ministries responsible for implementation of OVC laws and policies should be increased and protected: Small budgets are allocated to Government ministries and departments which are instrumental to the implementation of children and OVC laws and policies. These include the Department of Administrator General, Legal Aid, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, and the National Registration Bureau under OPC.

The annual allocations to these offices are less than adequate compared with the responsibilities placed upon them by the laws and policies.
The Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) monitors the cost of living for the four cities of Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe and Mzuzu and the peri-urban districts of Mangochi and Karonga on a monthly basis.

The results of these surveys indicate an ever increasing cost of living in the midst of the galloping inflation and the dwindling household’s incomes and purchasing power. The negative impact of such unaffordable cost of living on children is enormous and its consequences are noted to take a number of years to be appreciated.

In the month of March 2014, however, the cost of living has slightly reduced
by 0.5%, 2.8%, 4.1% and 5.4% for Lilongwe, Zomba, Blantyre and Mzuzu respectively. The decrease is on the account of a reduction in maize prices as Malawi begins her harvesting season.

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