Presidential Press Secretary Steve Nhlane has said that K308 million (US$1 million) which Malawi President Joyce Banda and her entourage have blown on a three-week trip to the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York is “reasonable and far much smaller” than what late president Bingu wa Mutharika was spending on trips to the UN.
Nhlane said that the K308 million used is the “lowest in the history of United Nations meetings”.
The statement did not qualify whether the ‘history’ encompasses the time of founding President Dr. Kamuzu Banda or that of former president Bakili Muluzi or it was only looking at “recent history”.
“The President’s entourage to the UN is comprised of 33 people. This is the smallest group that a President has ever taken to the United Nations in recent years. During a similar trip in 2010, the late President Bingu wa Mutharika had over 42 people in his delegation.
”They included many party leaders and chiefs. For that trip, Government spent over K700 million (at today’s exchange rate) including expenses for the Presidential jet that the former President was using. After the UN meeting, the former President would go on a month-long vacation in Europe”, Nhlane said.
While in New York, each member of the president’s entourage is getting a daily subsistence allowance of $280 (K84, 000) for the three weeks they will be there.
The statement added: “Her Excellency Mrs Joyce Banda has taken with her four chiefs. These have gone there in their other capacities such as members of the Presidential Initiative on Poverty and Hunger Reduction (PIPHR). And during the trip, PIPHR will sign important MOUs with potential investors such as the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) on crucial programmes aimed at reducing poverty among Malawians.”
Nhlane said the money used on this trip “is a necessary expense given the importance of the many meetings Her Excellency Mrs Joyce Banda is holding with potential investors and world leaders whose support Malawi needs for rebuilding Malawi’s economy”.
The statement said that the goal of these meetings is to galvanize support of the international community and bring in investors into Malawi. “Her Excellency’s work with the international community has already brought back over $500million from the IMF, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and others for Malawi’s economic growth”, Nhlane said.
The trip and the size of the entourage have come under heavy criticism from a cross-section of Malawians who are reeling from economic hardships and see this as unnecessary extravagance.
Calls have also been made for the president and vice president to cut on their local and international travel if the government’s austerity measures are to have any meaning.
Information minister Moses Kunkuyu last week told Malawi News Agency that while government understood the people’s sentiments, especially with the prevailing economic situation, the benefits for the country from this trip far outweighs the cost involved.
Kunkuyu said traditional chiefs were abused before by the previous government as tools for advancing political agendas. He said this time they have been given roles to play and had been taken to New York to discuss matters of “food security, safe motherhood and other government projects”.
President Banda left the country on Saturday, September 15th and is expected back home on October 2.