President Joyce Banda has promised to cut on her foreign trips, saying she would now be delegating vice president Khumbo Kachali after intense criticisms that she has undertaken six travels in a space of two months since ascending to the presidency in April.
Whilst justifying her foreign travels as paid for by the inviting states, Banda told a press conference on Thursday in Blantyre that she had taken note of the criticisms and would now be staying home longer.
“The vice president will now be going, starting with the trip to Addis ababa for the African Union summit,” said Banda at Chileka Airport soon after alighting from the presidential jet on her trip from the US and UK.
She grounded the presidential jet in South Africa and connected to the UK and US and back to South Africa using commercial airlines in order to cut on expenses, according to government officials close to her.
Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) sharply criticised Banda for the frequent travels, saying this is a drain in the country’s shaky and ailing economy.
MCP spokesperson on finance in parliament Joseph Njobvuyalema said it was un¬thinkable that the president would travel all the way from Malawi to Liberia just to “shake the hand of the Liberian president.”
However Banda said all the trips are beneficial to the country, saying most of them are sponsored by the inviting states or organisations.
On duo citizenship, Banda said Malawians living in both UK and US asked her to review government position on duo citizenship, saying the Malawi¬ans would like to hold both the Malawi passport and the foreign passport of their preference.
“They say if they have the duo citizenship, they can come to Malawi and help in the development of the nation. In Ethiopia or Ghana, they net over US$2 billion in remittances from this kind of people. I will talk to Mr Elvis Thodi (the chief Immigration Officer) on the merits and demerits of this system,” she said.
Banda seemed not to have been moved that the top most person she met in the US was Undersecretary for State Wendy Sherman, an equivalent of a deputy foreign affairs minister.
She said she held high-level discussion in the US for the benefit of Malawi and Malawians.
On the UK trip, Banda singled out her meeting with the Queen as the most memorable time in her life.
“Her Majesty the Queen came out and found several of us but she came straight to me and said, you have taken on a mammoth task but you are do¬ing your best. I am proud of you,” said Banda.
Banda said she could not believe that the Queen was conversant with African politics, saying as Malaw leader, she was humbled that the Queen singled her out of many heads of state who went to the UK to attend the Queen’s Golden celebrations.
However, the most memorable time for her party at the press conference could be when Banda had a slip of her tongue and acknowledged executive members of her People’s Party as that of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
After the First Gentleman, Richard Banda, who was sitting next to her at the high table during the press conference whispered to her, she said jokingly: “I did not know that I am addicted to that party.”
Apart from the vice president Khumbo Kachali who came to welcome her at Chileka Airport, deputy foreign affairs minister Rachael Zulu and chief secretary to government Bright Msaka were the only top most government officials available as all cabinet ministers and members of parliament were in Lilongwe for parliament.
Unlike in the past, no women civil servants came to dance for the head of state after the government order that they could only do so during week¬ends and holidays to avoid disrupting government business.