As debate continues over the size of Malawi’s delegation to the 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York, it has emerged that the United States embassy in Malawi issued 115 visas for the entourage.
We have it on good authority from within the embassy that it gave out 115 visas for the Malawi delegation to New York.
“President Mutharika left the country on a Tuesday [September 22] for the United Nations General Assembly. As of Friday that week, the embassy had issued 115 visas,” said our source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
US ambassador Virginia Palmer declined to give the number of visas the embassy issued when she appeared on Times Exclusive, a weekly programme on Times Television , arguing that it was against the US law for her to release such information.
“I am actually forbidden by US law to talk about the number of visas and to who we issued them because these are confidential matters between the applicant and visa officer. [So] I don’t know the number,” she said.
Palmer, however, said the number that comprised the presidential delegation (as compared to Malawi delegation) was as government has said it.
As questions emerged on the apparently bloated delegation that Malawi government took to New York, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said only 18 people made up President Peter Mutharika’s delegation.
“The size of the official delegation is as the president [has] said it,” Palmer said.
And the US ambassador disclosed in the interview that the UN gave only six passes to the General Assembly.
This should suggest that 109 delegates have only been in sideline activities.
“There are many activities that go on in the margins that are important. Then there is important work that goes on in New York,” Palmer said who, throughout the interview, made sure she avoided making statements that would aggrieve Mutharika and his government.
But the US diplomat, in an apparent agreement with the raging public opinion here, underlined that government needed to exercise prudence in the way it uses public resources.
It is feared that the trip to UN has cost the taxpayer anything between K300 million and K540 million.
Palmer said Malawi is going through tough times and should brace for even tougher times as up to 2.8 million Malawians are at risk of being without food in the months to come.
Up to K83.4 billion is required for emergency food response.
“That’s of concern to me and to the [Malawi] president and to Malawians. And Malawians need to say I have to choose how I spend my scarce resources.
“The government has to make tough choices. The President is coming back sooner than he planned and I think that it is important that he notes that he has important things to do with the upcoming rainy season and he would economise by coming back soon,” she said.
Mutharika returns home tomorrow, October 4.
In the interview, which touched on a wide range of issues including Malawi-China relations and the country’s foreign investment drive, Palmer said Malawi has a good democratic reputation in Washington.
She cited the country’s multiple peaceful transitions of power, being one of the freest-speaking countries in Africa, participation in international peace keeping missions, upholding of media freedom and strides in HIV and Aids fight as some of the factors that have earned it America’s favourable eye.
And asked to assess the performance of Mutharika and his administration, Palmer admitted she was yet to come to grips with Mutharika’s management principle.
“I don’t know a whole lot about his management style. I am still learning,” she said.
But Palmer said Mutharika and his administration have shown commitment to fighting corruption, implementing public sector and public financial management reforms.
“I think he has correctly identified the issues that are necessary for Malawi to get out of the cycle of poverty….
“I think the future is alright. I think change is real; change is going to happen,” she said.
But Palmer urged Malawians and the media to remain vigilant on the performance of the leadership of this country.
“I think that it is important that you keep your leaders accountable, your officials accountable. That you articulate what public sector reform means to you.
“When the public sector reform is real, investment dollars will flow, when you stick to the budget, development partners’ support will continue. And we will all say we lived in Malawi when Malawi changed,” she said.
United States is one of Malawi’s largest development partners. One of its signature assistance to the government of Malawi is the US$350.7 energy compact which is being implemented through the Millennium Challenge Account- Malawi.