Eye brows have been raised in some quarters regarding the source of relief maize that President Joyce Banda is distributing to hunger-stricken households in the country following observations that the bags of maize are branded “JB” or “Joyce Banda”.

But the Presidency has said there is nothing fishy about the labeling, adding it is only for the purposes of identification and transparency.

The distribution exercise has generally been seen and peddled as a government response to the hunger situation in some districts, especially in the Southern Region.

But because of the seeming confusion created by the branding, analysts have called on the presidency to clarify whether this is government relief package which is partly funded by donors or declare the source of the relief food and of the money used to purchase it if it is out of the President’s pocket.

A Zomba-based political scientist Ernest Thindwa said President Banda should declare in public where she is sourcing funds for the relief items bearing her name to dispel speculation on the matter.

“The president should tell the nation where she is getting funds for the labelled relief items because if it is public money, the label to be used is supposed to be that of the government,” he said.

Thindwa also took issue with the size of the entourage accompanying the president on such relief distribution exercises, saying that gives the impression that government has a lot of money to spend.

The president has been in the company of her deputy, Khumbo Kachali, and other government functionaries including officials from the Department of Disaster Management who are tasked with 2012distribution of relief supplies.

“This [the size of the entourage] gives an impression that the government has a lot of money. With the economic situation we need to be prudent with resources. In my view the president is just trying to popularise herself [through the entourages and the branding of the items],” Thindwa observed.

He noted that the Disaster Department should have been left to do the distribution of the relief items.

Another political scientist Joseph Chunga said it was a problem if the president is using state money on the relief items labelled in her name.

“It depends on where she is getting the money; if it’s her personal resources there is no problem to label them in her name.

“But the challenge is that we have had cases where people use public resources and claim that the funds are personal,” Chunga observed.

Like Chunga, Thindwa also bemoaned the huge entourage that accompanies the president when distributing the relief items.

“When we analyse, it is possible that the cost of travel can surpass the donation. Some of these functions do not need the president,” he noted.

However, Press Secretary to the president Steve Nhlane said the labeling of the relief items was meant for identification and transparency.

“This is for identification and transparency aimed at avoiding confusing the other relief items that are being distributed. But also there is nothing wrong with branding a donation. Many donors brand their donations.

“Just look around, you have many branded vehicles and buildings. Fertiliser subsidy items are labelled in the same way, and for the same reason. The aim is to curb misuse,” said Nhlane.

According to him, the “JB” branded relief items are sourced by the president, the Joyce Banda Foundation International and some well wishers who do not want to be mentioned.

Nhlane denied allegations that the relief items were from donors, saying such aid is channelled through the government and World Food Programme (WFP) machinery.

“What Her Excellency has done so far on distribution is only symbolic. The majority of the relief items Her Excellency has been procuring are being distributed using other machinery. Disaster relief officials are always available during such functions. They are the ones who distribute.

“The President has only been presiding over the distribution. Additionally, and this is very important, items from disaster relief are targeted and therefore very limited in the number of people it reaches out to. Her Excellency’s relief covers a bigger group of beneficiaries,” he concluded.

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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