Calculations by the Malawi News, Malawi’s oldest weekly, suggest that over K270 million may have been spent by President Peter Mutharika and his entourage on the recent outing to the United General Assembly (UNGA).
The paper says the K270 million is enough to fund Mzimba District Hospital for over two full months.
Mzimba Hospital, and all major hospitals and health centres in Malawi, are overwhelmed due to poor funding from government with meals for patients – in some hospitals – reduced, because the over-stretched hospital budgets cannot meet the cost of feeding patients.
In Mzimba Hospital, over 20 children die every month before they reach the age of one due to lack of care and access to basic medical attention due to insufficient government funding.
Basis of the Calculations:
The K270 million is based on a minimum of 45 people that are likely to travel with the President for such a trip over a period of 15 days during which the group was in New York.
It excludes additional five days that Mutharika and other government officials who are still in the US have already stayed.
Sources at Foreign Affairs say Mutharika is entitled to $700 a day when he travels outside while the First Lady pockets $400 dollars.
On the other hand, senior officials like ministers and principal secretaries as well as directors also receive $400 a day. Junior officers get $300 a day for a foreign trip.
The paper quotes a former diplomat who did want to be named who revealed that even if government was to reduce the size of the entourage, the number of people on the trip could still not be less than 45 and argued that during such times government officials take advantage of the summit to go for a vacation and do some shopping.
Therefore if, for instance, 45 people were given $400 per day it would translate to $18,000 (K13.1 million). For a period of 15 days and that amounts to K197 million.
UNGA attains annual pilgrimage status:
As per these news links,
ZBS: “How APM’s Large UN Entourage Eats Into Your Pocket” published in September 2015 when the Malawi delegation spent not less than K238 million and approximately K352 million after factoring in accommodation and airfare,
Daily Times: “Peter Mutharika’s UN entourage sparked debate” published in January 2016 where the Daily Times estimated that Mutharika’s trip to the UN cost the taxpayer over K330 million;
the profligacy has now become a habit under the leadership of President Peter Mutharika and his party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The UNGA spending tours have now become an annual pilgrimage, enjoyed by those close the Malawi president who – most of the times – include relatives, traditional leaders and shaddy characters defecting from the opposition to join the gravy train.
The former diplomat also claimed that among the personal members of staff who travel with the President is an accountant from Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) who pays for meals and other bills despite the people already pocketing allowances.
“Maybe if it was Washington DC but New York is just a town and during this time the country is always busy promoting its tourism and life is expensive because prices of goods are doubled, it’s hard to imagine how much the tax payer is coughing for such a luxury,” he said.
2016 ‘Pilgrimage’ extended indefinitely amid secrecy:
Asked on whether the President is justified to prolong his stay to attend to other equally important post meetings, the former diplomat wondered as to which people in particular Mutharika was holding meetings with.
He said according to his experience most delegates leave earlier or after speeches by heads of state.
“You must understand that subcommittee meetings by government officials which include ministers and representatives from different NGOs take place before the speeches and such discussions form part of the agenda of the summit. What happens these days is as if the summit is a black box analogy and one doesn’t know what exactly happens there,” said the source.
Mutharika left the country through Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) on September 15 on a private jet to Johannesburg for the summit which took place from September 19 -23.
He was expected back home by the 25th but he has prolonged his stay.
Government refuses to be accountable:
Kasaila last week challenged the media to use its expertise and capacity to establish as to how big the country’s delegation was and how much it cost the taxpayer.
Earlier Kasaila had pledged that government would disclose the details but backtracked arguing that the executive does not owe the media an explanation and that such information would be given to Parliament when need arises.
Last year (2015) 102 visas were issued by the US Embassy in Lilongwe for the Malawi delegation.
Our source at the US Embassy in Lilongwe said Malawi protested with the US on how the number of visas for the delegation was divulged to the public.
He said this year the embassy was extra careful as the US law does not allow it to reveal such information unless there is a court order.
“In this case the onus is on the Malawi government to reveal to Malawians the number of people who travelled to America for the UNGA if it so wishes,” said our source at the embassy.
Going by the graphs above, and considering the general economic sufferance by the general populace in Malawi, something is definitely wrong with the priorities of the current administration.
Most worrisome is the fact that Mutharika and his goons seem to be keen to stick their middle fingers to the many Malawians complaining about the fact that the administration has long since abrogated its duty to the very citizens who gave it the mandate to manage their wealth, or to be more accurate, to further worsen their acute poverty.