Empty investment forums?

Post was last updated: December 9, 2016

The rhetoric of industrialisation has seen the country hosting annual international business forums and the second event was held this year at the Bingu International Conference Centre in Lilongwe.

Just like the inaugural Malawi Investment Forum (MIF), this year’s forum attracted the cream in business and investments from within and outside the country, promising to be the change the country needs to revolutionalise industrialisation.

But how these events feed into the reality of turning the country into a predominantly manufacturing and exportation nation remains a big question.

Several companies are said to have put pen to paper committing to invest in Malawi and that is the initial result of the event that attracted over 600 delegates.

But as a reminder, Malawians are still waiting to see the actual fruits from last year’s event which resulted into about 13 companies committing to bet their money for the potential the country nestles in various sectors.

Memories are still fresh when a report about the forum announced that investors had pledged to manufacture fertilizer, food and beverages, process edible oil, construct a five star hotel in Lilongwe, produce solar energy, etcetera.

Now, we are at it again this year, touting results from the investment forum where among the companies that signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) include Ndedebe Company to construct residential houses, Khato Engineering to construct and operate tollgates and Water Wheels International on a hydro power project in Nkhata Bay.

Even though the Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Joseph Mwanavekha, said Malawians should expect to see the companies startingoff their operations soon, it is yet to be known when the companieswill roll out their operations.

According to Mwanamvekha, the 2016 forum was more beneficial comparedto last year’s because companies signed MoUs, a thing which did not happen last year.

Malawi Investment and Trade Centre said commencement of the operations may seem to be delayed but said it is because the process of registering takes time.

This stands as a contradiction considering the One Stop Service Centre mandated to handle registrations for periods as short as five days.

And now the issues of power supply interruptions keeps haunting the country, scaring away investors in power demanding industries. How does the country put its house in order before inviting the whole world to invest?

Perhaps accelerating the investment processes for power investors could have excited investors in other industries who would grow hope that something is happening to address the electricity issue but, alas!

Though the MIF aims to firmly position Malawi as an attractive and preferred investment destination on the global investment map; the frequent blackouts continue to be a major constraint for business operations in the country and any efforts to address that are but too slow.

Commenting on the same, an economist, Ben Kaluwa, said most of the investors could be shunning away from investing in the country because of the rampant black outs the country is experiencing.

“So many people came for the MIF 2015 and 2016 signing MoUs to invest in Malawi but many of them are not investing in the country because the country is facing electricity problems which is a barrier to entry,” Kaluwa said.

Perhaps holding these investment forums should come on the back drop of accomplishment of smoothening of the investment environment in the country in order to see real results.

This year’s MIF organisation did not fall short of disappointing other investors though. Some of local small scale entrepreneurs were not happy with the way they were treated as compared to the big companies.

Many faulted the organisers of the event for not giving enough visibility to their products and services as was the case with big companies, a thing that limited their chances of landing on some lucrative deals, possibly.

Perhaps it points to the call to have an investment forum with similar hype and scale but involving SMEs.

It remains to be seen how these investment forums will start bringing change to the economy but for now, the country can only wait for tangible results as the MITC is confident to expect investments that will create 5,255 jobs when actualised.

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