By increasing Cabinet ministers’ subsistence allowances by 80 percent, the Joyce Banda administration has shown that while it is preaching the gospel of frugality to Malawians in an attempt to control public expenditure and stabilise an economy hurt by rising inflation, the regime is not prepared to share in the suffering.
The President and her Cabinet want to live in opulence, luxury and comfort of top class hotel accommodation as they travel across this country, more often than not on petty and personal trips, but carefully disguised as government business.
Clerk to Cabinet Clement Chinthu Phiri says the hike, effected on August 6, is responding to recent increases in hotel rates and that, ministers being people, also deserve decent accommodation. He says the increase was already factored into the budget.
The catch which Chinthu Phiri did not address is that it is not only ministers who are people and deserving decent accommodation when on government business. He did not address the fact that the 49 percent devaluation of our currency, which has necessitated the rates to rise in hotels, has not only affected ministers but the whole country.
Principal secretaries, which include Chinthu Phiri himself, and all other civil servants have been left out of the arrangement for only one reason and it is that, barely four months in power, the JB administration is finding the government gravy train too hard to resist and are bent on enjoying all its trappings. But the timing could not have been worse.
I have one question for Chinthu Phiri since he seems to be championing ministerial extravagance at the expense of poor Malawians, many of whom cannot afford three square meals a day and it is this: Would our Cabinet ministers change to something else, for example, if they slept in a decent lodge commensurate with their allowances?
The Joyce Banda government should never attempt to take Malawians for granted as the Bingu wa Mutharika did. It seems to me JB and her ministers are slowly falling into the same trap of promising Malawians one thing and doing the opposite. How many times have we been told that the President and her ministers would want to share the pain Malawians are going through by, among other things, cutting on expenses and yet here they are doing exactly the opposite.
No one denies that economic problems, which were caused by the Bingu wa Mutharika administration, are inevitable and that as patriots, we all need to play our role and sacrifice to put things right but the tragedy for this nation is that while the citizens are groaning under the yoke of a crumbled economy, the impression this matter has given is that Cabinet does not want to share in any iota of pain.
That is why our Cabinet ministers, from the poverty-striken Malawi, insist on flying first class when travelling abroad when ministers and ambassadors from rich countries such as Britain and US, where we get most of our aid, travel economy class. Are they less ministers than ours? The answer is a resounding no. They scrounge on resources because they know money does not grow on trees as our ministers want us to believe by their love of opulence and extravagance.
Joyce Banda came into power on the platform of cleaning up the mess which the late Mutharika left behind.
She was initially a breath of fresh air after the demise of Bingu.
Yes, it is true that the economic problems we are experiencing today are of Mutharika’s making. He is the one who gave the British High Commissioner 72 hours to pack his bags and leave Malawi only for Britain to freeze aid. It was Mutharika’s bad governance and poor human rights record which drove the Americans to freeze the US$350 million they had pledged towards improving our electricity supply? It was on Mutharika’s watch when we experienced the worst fuel and forex woes in this country’s history. It was Bingu whose diplomatic gaffes led to that embarrassing affair with Michael Sata and Armando Guebuza, straining relations with two of our neighbours. It was none other than Bingu who repeatedly called donors stupid.
But as fate would have it, Joyce Banda was thrust into the hot seat of Presidency in April. She told us that we needed 18 months of gnashing teeth before we saw light at the end of tunnel.
We believed her and, as Malawians, we were prepared to groan in silence as the effects of inflation caused by the devaluation of the kwacha are eating deep into our earnings.
Workers exercised restraint when calling for industrial actions for better wages. They knew where we are coming from and Joyce Banda told them where we are going.
But with this 80 percent raise to ministers, all that has flown out of the window. By the stroke of the pen, this insensitive increase has just done one thing and that is to justify all demands of salary increase being made by workers in the country.
It is simple. Ministers have felt the pinch of devaluation in that their allowance cannot get them a room in top-notch hotel. Unfortunately, this is true to everybody and not only ministers.
We all need a raise Anything else is recipe for industrial action which Cabinet has truly justified.