Of annual pilgrimage to UNGA

Hon Folks, when Sadc or AU meetings beckon, APM first checks the kitty. If it’s not looking good he stays home.

Not so with the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Since assuming office in 2014, APM religiously makes the annual pilgrimage to the UNGA in New York. Almost always he also takes along excess baggage of cronies.

These folks globe-trot at the expense of the taxpayer, are accommodated for weeks in expensive hotels and are given allowances for meals and incidentals in dollars yet their role at the UNGA is not justified.

Then there’s APM’s penchant for extending his stay in the US after the UNGA. That government keeps the cost of UNGA trips a guarded secret only serves to show how difficult it is to list the benefits that justify costs.

We may be food secure this year with inflation in single digit and interest rate at its lowest in years but the fact is that our economy remains fragile. Until structural constraints in the economy are addressed the prevailing food security, stability of the kwacha and availability of forex can be reversed tomorrow.

It only takes a hike in fuel price or a season of drought or floods for our fortunes to convert into woes.

The President and other privileged folks in government expect us to embrace austere measures they introduce in the name of fixing the rickety economy.  Why then should opulence and grandeur still remain their entitlement? Leaders should walk the talk and lead by example.

The Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) may be known for its aggressiveness but slowly, meeting, let alone beating, targets is becoming elusive. Reason: the economy which yields tax revenue is generally on the decline whereas the demand for public goods and services of our growing population is on the rise.

It takes political will for a President to forego wasteful spending on areas that satiate the ego such as travel. Look at it this way: while APM attends the UNGA without fail, John Magufuli, President of the more prosperous neighbouring Tanzania has not attended the same UNGA for two consecutive years now. The country was this year represented by Dr. Augustine Mahiga, Minister of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation.

Whatever reasons APM has for extending his stay in the US, other delegates from more prosperous countries of the world went there, addressed the UNGA and returned home almost immediately. They wanted to make a saving which could be better utilised elsewhere.

The choices APM makes, such as flying charter, overstaying in the US, refusing to account for the size of his entourage are by the end of the day a cost to the taxpayer. Likewise, the choices DPP cadres make, such as commandeering a government truck allocated to Nkhotakota District Hospital for a trip to Kamuzu International Airport to give the President a rousing send-off are also a cost to the taxpayer.

If the speech APM delivered at the UNGA hasn’t made headlines it’s probably because it was largely irrelevant. He was concerned with the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles when our immediate problem is poverty, hunger and shortage of electricity and water. We can’t trade competitively because up to 60 tambala in every kwacha spent on international trade goes to transport costs alone.

While population pressure, growing poverty, ignorance and failure to enforce the rule of law are exacerbating environmental degradation, global warming and its resulting climatic change–the havoc of which we, Malawians, are primary witnesses–is a problem collectively caused by the human race.

Let’s engage the international community, in a cost-effective manner, to put across our case and make it clear we won’t let them down again if they render the necessary push. n

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