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President’s budget enjoys increase

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While the major feature of the 2015/16 national budget is drastic cuts in allocations to various public social and economic services, offices connected to the presidency will be basking in the privilege of having their allocations increased instead.

The Draft 2015/16 Financial Statement which details allocations for the ending national budget and makes projections for the two following financial years shows the presidency and state residences being allocated and estimated K54 million and K1.45 billion respectively in personal emoluments alone.

This is a rise from K33.6 million and K796 million respectively as allocated in the 2014/15 budget.

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The Office of the Vice President has seen a rise in personal emoluments allocations from K195 million in the 2014/15 financial year to K264 million in the 2015/16 budget.

In terms of other recurrent transactions (ORT), except for the Office of the President and Cabinet which has seen its budget cut from K2.5 billion in 2014/15 to K1.6 billion in the budget under debate, all other offices connected to the presidency have seen increases.

For example, the allocation to state residences has seen a marginal increase from K3.105 billion in the 2014/15 budget to K3.106 in the budget which Members of Parliament are currently scrutinising for the 2015/16 financial year.

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The Office of the Vice President has seen its ORT budget rising to K1.08 billion in the 2015/16 budget allocation from K822 million in the 2014/15 financial year.

This is while there have been cuts in ORT allocations to other departments such as the Local Government and Rural Development, Land and Housing, Youth Development and Sports, Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Financial Intelligence Unit, Registrar General, Transport and Public Works, Human Rights Commission and the Anti- Corruption Bureau.

The Office of the Ombudsman, which is perpetually underfunded while it is supposed to pursue justice on behalf of millions of poor Malawians, is one of the worst sufferers in the 2015/16 budget.

It has been allocated a paltry K270 million, a decline from an already insufficient K342 million allocated in the 2014/15 budget.

For personal emoluments, officials at the Office of the Ombudsman will have to make do with an allocation of K180 million, a K60 million reduction from the K242 million allocated to the office in the 2014/15 budget.

For its daily operations, the office has been allocated K90 million, down from K100 million allocated for the purpose in the 2014/15 budget.

The Office of the Ombudsman is constitutionally mandated to investigate any and all cases where a person may have suffered injustice and “it does not appear that there is any remedy reasonably available by way of proceedings in a court or by way of appeal from a court or where there is no other practicable remedy.”

In March this year, the office reported that it had a backlog of over 3,000 cases which it needed to investigate but was unable to do so due to poor funding.

And due to financial constraints, the office had to retrench 13 members of its staff and as of March this year, the retrenched staff were yet to receive their dues a year after they were sacked.

The disparities go some way in supporting the widely held view that the 2015/16 budget, strung on the assumption that there will not be any donor support, is making the plight of the poor worse.

But apparently, offices such as that of the Ombudsman could have some little relief if the government considered trimming some of the allocations from other sectors including the state residences itself.

Above the other increases highlighted, state residences will also enjoy an allocation of K850 million in its development budget.

Its projects under this allocation include construction and rehabilitation of state houses and lodges pegged at K250 million, replacement and rehabilitation of plants and equipment budgeted at K200 million and construction of a banquet hall also allocated K250 million.

When contacted to explain these disparities, spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance, Nations Msowoya, said he needed time to consult his colleagues before he could respond.

But Lilongwe-based public policy analyst, Alex Nkosi, said the increases in the offices connected to the presidency do not send a good signal, especially when funding to critical areas like the social sector has gone down.

“Obviously the action will attract rigorous scrutiny from the public and in Parliament because Malawians have consistently been calling on the leadership of this country to walk the talk. Thus, if the leadership, through the national budget, is asking the citizenry to tighten their belts, they ought also to dance to the same tune.

“Otherwise, the assumption will be deemed to be that there are “sacred cows” in this country when it comes to the application of austerity measures. And that can open the Pandora’s Box!” he said.

The 2015/16 is pegged at K901 billion.

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