President Joyce Banda has come under criticism for apparently reneging on the promise to “reduce the size of the presidential motorcade to sizeable necessity” to live up to the austerity drive she launched after assuming power in April.
Banda, in her maiden speech in parliament in May, promised that a committee would be set up to recommend on the size of her convoy, which is usually a contingent of over 20 fuel-guzzling, four-wheel drive Hummers, Toyota Land Cruisers, Land Rovers and Mercedes- Benz.
Often, the president is accompanied by a multitude of police outriders on high-powered motorcycles.
MCP spokesperson on Finance, lawmaker Joseph Njobvuyalema, told The Sunday Times that his party, which is led by parliamentary opposition leader John Tembo, wants the government to act immediately on the motorcade, including that of Vice President Khumbo Kachali, to serve costs.
“The size of the motorcade is too large and expensive for this country. We are made to believe the motorcade is there for security purposes but we have never experienced any security incident to warrant such exaggerated security detail,” Njobvuyalema said.
The MP said if the motorcade, which sometimes closes roads 40 minutes before it passes, is reduced the cuts in fuel and personnel costs can be diverted to other pressing areas like health care and education.
“Those vehicles are filled full tank with fuel each day; we can serve a lot from cutting such costs, and use the money to fund a new health centre. I’ve seen with my own eyes other presidential convoys like in South Africa; only five cars, three for security, and another for the president preceded by a traffic police car. Three or four vehicles should be enough for us as well,” said the MP.
The MCP Finance Spokesperson said what is more worrying now is that both the president and her deputy, Khumbo Kachali, use regularly the long motorcades.
“The main worry is the frequency; when the Veep wants to go to a barbershop, he wants to use a motorcade, when he wants to go Shopping, he wants a motorcade but sometimes they should travel alone, with minimum security. In Europe, the prime minister or president doesn’t take along the whole motorcade with him when he is going shopping,” he added.
Presidential Press Secretary, Steven Nhlane told The Sunday Times in an email response that the president has not changed her stance on the issue of reducing the size of her motorcade.
“The president has not changed her views on the convoy. What she said is that she would ask those who are responsible for her security to see if it is possible to reduce the size of her motorcade. I do not know what she has been advised,” Nhlane said.
Nhlane could not say the number of vehicles currently on the motorcade, saying the issue borders on security and hence could not divulge it to the public.
“I do not know how many vehicles are there on the presidential motorcade. The President’s security detail cannot be divulged to newspapers,” he said.
He further also defended the practice of closing access to the road when the presidential convoy is passing as a common standard in many countries.
“What Malawians should know is that the constitution of the republic of Malawi provides that the president be accorded adequate security anywhere—whether travelling or at home. It is standard practice the world over,” Nhlane said.
Road users often complain about loss of valuable time an inconvenience when road access is closed for over 40 minutes when the president is using the road. In Blantyre, if the president is attending a function inside the Trade Fair grounds, then the part of Masauko Chipembere highway going toward Limbe is closed for the whole duration of her function, resulting in chaos and congestion on few alternative access roads.
Presidents have also angered commuters by holding whistle stop rallies in the middle of busy roads with the incumbent recently addressing a People’s Party improptu mini-rally on the busy M1 Road in Lilongwe recently.
To please donors, President Banda announced that she was going to sell or lease of a $13.3-million (11-million-euro) presidential jet controversially bought by her predecessor three years ago as well as 60 mercedez benz limousines used to ferry cabinet ministers and top government officials.
These promises were used to help mend breaches with international donors who pulled the plug on vital aid to the country during the administration of the late president Bingu wa Mutharika, citing poor economic policies and governance.
“There is urgent need in our country to change the way we do things,” said Banda – who was vice president from 2009 until she became president on April 7 after the death of Mutharika from a heart attack.
Banda said the national austerity drive seeks to “cut back on government expenditure through a number of on-going measures.”
Part of the cost-cutting schemes she promised included getting rid of the luxury vehicles and presidential plane, symbols of power and status in this poor nation, whose national budget is about 40 percent donor supported.
Her promises to reform have seen foreign ties re-established. British Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell visited the country recently after his department pledged £30 million (38 million euros, $47 million), and the IMF has recommended a new loan of $156 million after a mission to the country earlier in May.