Taxpayers are expected to cough around K35 billion in the next five years on development and rehabilitation of four State residences, Nation on Sunday has established.
The expenditure plans have re-ignited calls for government to get rid of some State residences to cut the maintenance costs as the country battles economic turmoil predicted to hang around for long due to soaring inflation, currency instability and rapid fuel price increases.
The projects, which include construction of an office complex at Kamuzu Palace valued at K10.5 billion, are streamlined in the 2022 Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs.
According to the ministry, PSIP “is a five-year rolling plan that consists of projects and programmes from government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) aimed at realising the country’s development objectives.
“The PSIP operationalises the country’s long and medium-term development strategies. To this end, the PSIP appraises and prioritises public investments to ensure that they are in line with the priorities of Malawi 2063.”
In the document, K6.2 billion has been allocated towards replacing “machines/plants and equipment that are old, outdated, dilapidated and malfunction due to time, tear and wear”.
The projects will be implemented at Kamuzu Palace, Sanjika Palace in Blantyre, Mtunthama State Lodge, Mzuzu State Lodge and Chikoko Bay State Cottage in Mangochi.
The Ministry of Finance has also budgeted K10.6 billion for the rehabilitation of “residences infrastructures; residences for the Head of State, functionaries, support staff houses and driveways”.
The PSIP further indicates that K2.1 billion has been budgeted for rehabilitation of ornamental fountains and lawn irrigation systems and ponds, among others.
Meanwhile, a K5.2 billion project to erect a 26-kilometre fence around Kamuzu and Sanjika palaces is already underway.
PSIP further reads: “To control encroachment challenges at Kamuzu Palace and Sanjika Palace, government is rehabilitating security fences at State Residences. So far works of 14 kilometre security fence at Kamuzu are underway and progress is at 7.1 percent. “The project also intends to construct brick wall perimeter security fences stretching about 12 kilometres surrounding Sanjika Palace.”
Meanwhile, analysts have questioned the high cost of maintaining the State residences, arguing it was time the country reduced the number of presidential residences.
“Perhaps it is time as a nation we reflect on whether we indeed need all these State residences. For example, what purpose does Mtunthama serve compared to the cost of maintaining it?” quizzed economist Milwad Tobias, executive director for Centre for Research and Consultancy.
Mtunthama State Lodge is located 14-kilometres away from Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe and is rarely used.
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) which promotes human rights, rule of law, and good governance has also called for the reduction of State residences and halting of renovation plans.
Said CCJP national coordinator Boniface Chibwana in a written response yesterday.: “Looking at the hard social economic situation that the country is going through, it wouldn’t be prudent to concentrate on renovation of state residences.
“Besides, when the president talked about austerity measures, he is supposed to just show that by denying himself some luxuries like these renovations. We need to concentrate on developmental initiatives that can spur economic growth.”
Ministry of Finance spokesperson Taurai Banda said not all the projects have been funded in the 2022/23 National Budget.
He said: “There are two projects for State residences that are in the current budget, namely construction of office complex and rehabilitation of security fence at State residences that have been allocated funding of K250 million and K1 billion, respectively.
“For the year 2022/23, K250 million has been allocated to the project of construction of office complex at Kamuzu Palace for
designs and other preparatory works while K1 billion has been allocated to the projects of rehabilitation of security fence…”
Banda could not respond if at all there are considerations to reduce the State residences or justification for the high cost of maintenance as outlined in the PSIP.
Meanwhile, the Commissions, Statutory Corporations and State Enterprises Committee of Parliament chairperson Isaac Kaneka blamed government for “shoddy maintenance” of State residences as contributing to high expenditure.
He said: “For the past three consecutive years, during budget consultations, I have been meeting officials from State residences. Year in year, year out they do request some funds to maintain the residences.
“The biggest challenge I came
across is that they use guess work or some sort of gut feeling as such they run into such situations of under budgeting and it’s seen as if the money is not put to its intended use.
“More than once I have advised them that they need to come up with what they really want to do [detailed specifications needs] get these needs quantified—produce bills of quantities.”
Kaneka observed that the budget reflected in the PSIP might not even be enough to complete the rehabilitation of the presidential houses.
He said: “In March this year, the Budget Cluster Committee which is a combination of commissions, statutory authorities and public appointments committees visited Sanjika Residence to inspect and appreciate the status.
“It was noted that the maintenance of Sanjika alone would require not less than K10 billion to bring it to the required standard.
“I personally feel that a figure of K25 billion for maintenance of all State residences for the next coming five years is not enough. Otherwise, it will be seen again as these funds are not being utilised properly.”
The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament has since said it has not been thoroughly monitoring the State residences maintenance expenses to assess if the funds were being properly used.
Said its deputy chairperson Ned Poya: “It is necessary that we have an audit report on the expenditures to that effect. As a committee, we are concerned about these [planned projects] revelations and we will ensure that all resources allocated for State residences are accordingly accounted for.
“The committee’s concern is whether the Auditor General has extensively audited the State residences. We have never seen an audit report on State residence expenditures. That’s where we have to focus