At a time when the country is grappling with a number of challenges both economically and socially, The Daily Times has learnt that President Peter Mutharika’s trip to the United Nations General Assembly will cost the taxpayer over K330 million.
Mutharika left the country in a German based K5-Aviation chartered jet on Monday for New York. Impeccable sources at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confided in this paper that at least 110 people have accompanied Mutharika on the two-week long stay in the United States of America.
Ironically, a few hours before departure, Mutharika made an appeal to development partners and other well-wishers to assist the country with cash and other donations so as to bail out 2.8 million Malawians who are likely to face starvation by next month.
Government needs US$146.3 which is roughly over K81 billion to ensure that the country is food secure.
But government through Director of Information Bright Molande has played down the issue, claiming some of the government officials have been sponsored by different organisations both locally and internationally.
Molande was also non-committal on the size of the entourage. But he insisted that the number needs to be scrutinised.
“They are different categories, for example the Ministry of Gender has sent a big number of people to the meeting but these government officials are being funded by the UN. You must understand that there will be a number of side meetings taking place. A lot of people would want to take advantage of that and strike business deals and meet potential investors because the world will be meeting at one place,” said Molande
He also added that there is always a cost to international diplomacy and participation in the international community and the country should be ready to meet the cost.
Said Molande: “Do you want Malawi to be labelled a selfish nation? We must accept that at the end of the day our President must attend the UN General Assembly, Commonwealth meetings. Let’s look at the benefits of these meetings whether they are useless or not instead of focusing on numbers.”
According to information sourced from Travel Agents, one has to cough between K900,000 and K1.2 million to fly to New York and back.
This translates to over K99 million for transportation alone.
A quick search on the internet also shows affordable accommodation in New York ranges from US$225- US$250 per night which is roughly
K150,000, translating to over K235 million, for the two weeks that the 110 people will be in New York.
This, therefore, means that at least K334 million is going to be spent on this one trip by Mutharika.
Sources at Treasury also told this paper that allowances in government for officers travelling outside the country range from US$280 to US$400 per day depending on grade of the officer. Ministers and Principal Secretaries, said the sources, pocket US$380 or more per day.
Officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have also kept a tight lid on names of individuals who have travelled together with Mutharika. But reports are rife that some, who have formed part of the entourage, are politicians and chiefs who have no business whatsoever to do in the US.
And as if the extraordinarily-large delegation is not a yoke enough on the taxpayer, Mutharika has made the trip on a hired VVIP executive jet, Bombadier Global 6000.
During his trips to China and Ethiopia, Mutharika has used Bombadier Global Express 6000 BD-700- 1A10 with registration ZS-OAK, which he hired from Execujet. Typical flight times to China take 16 hours which implies that a round trip in a Bombardier Global Express 6000 costs not less than K150m.
According to details given in an article on Africa Defence Review publication by the South African government on similar criticisms to President Jacob Zuma, hiring a Bombadier Global Express costs R109,000 (about K5 million) per day. This is dry rate, technically termed as from chock-to-chock, which excludes fuel and handling charges.
According to investor guide information from Bombardier, the manufacturers of the jets loved by our President, a typical Bombardier Global 6000 which costs about US$60 million to buy, the plane costs US$8,600 per hour including fuel, staff and all necessities to run translating to K8.7m per hour. Flying this jet, in a round trip to New York City takes about 25 hours. . The Presidential flight will, therefore, easily cost this country K217 million.
Ironically, a presidential jet which government sold in 2013, now stationed in South Africa, costs R66,900 to hire per hour translating to about K2.7 million per day. The sold jet is among the cheapest to hire while the one that the President regularly hires is the most expensive among the Execujet fleet of VVIP transport planes.
Molande refused to comment on the ownership and cost of the jet, saying State House would be better placed to handle that. State House Press Secretary, Gerald Viola did not respond to our messages, from New York where he is part of the delegation.
But in a statement Viola said not all delegates have been sponsored by the State, except seven delegates who include Ministers and Principal Secretaries.
“Government of Malawi has not taken the burden of sponsoring any delegate to the General Assembly apart from the Officials mentioned earlier,” said Viola.
Reacting to the reports, National Coordinator for Civil Society Agriculture Network,(Cisanet) Tamani Nkhono Mvula said K330 million can do a lot of wonders in the agricultural sector.
He said: “With that amount you can purchase 3,400 metric tonnes of maize which can feed 30,000 people for at least a period of six months, and that’s a lot considering the plight the country is interms of food insecurity. Government needs not be indifferent to the suffering of Malawians when making its decisions.”
Mvula, therefore, suggested to Mutharika to try to delegate his vice or Foreign Affairs minister on such trips so as to cut on costs, considering that when a head of state travels, he moves with a big number of people.
Executive Director of Economic Justice Network (Mejn) Dalitso Kubalasa said at a time when most Malawians are excited with the reform, it is quite surprising that government seem to be offering only lip service.
“Is everyone going there going to add any value to the meeting, because like they say once beaten twice shy, experience has shown us that many a number of times that our government has sent such large entourage we don’t see any results because some of the people who are featured go there only for fun,” said Kubalasa.
Meanwhile, government has abolished the Junior Certificate of Education (JCE) Examination which many poor Malawians would attain. The government has also stopped issuing of Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE) to save K20 million per year.
Mutharika blows over K330m
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