Panting under criticism over what some say is a 121-member taxpayer-funded entourage to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), government on Tuesday said Capital Hill is only paying for less than 20 of the Malawi delegation to the global event.
The Nation could not independently verify the number, but if the 121 figure is correct, our conservative estimate—based on an average of four categories of external travel allowances in government—Capital Hill may have spent over $940 000 (K564 million) on the trip on average.
A source at the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development said for a trip outside Africa, daily allowance for the President is $500 (about K285 000), a Cabinet minister gets $400 (about K228 000), principal secretaries (PSs) get $300 (about K171 000) and any officer below the position of director and below gets $280 (about K159 600).
That amounts to an average of $370 (K222 000) per day per person; hence, arriving at the K564 million estimate for the 121 people over 21 days.
But if, as Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister George Chaponda told The Nation in an interview on Tuesday, government is only paying for less than 20 people, the taxpayers may have parted, on average, with just over $155 000 (K93 million) on 20 people for 21 days.
There has been outrage on social media after reports filtered out that the Malawi Government is sending such an entourage to the United States (US) for the assembly.
Critics wonder how the administration could be spending so much money on such an entourage when public hospital pharmacies are fast running out of drugs, 2.8 million Malawians are starving and government is struggling to fund most of its ministries, departments and agencies.
In fact, hours before President Peter Mutharika left the country for New York on Monday, he appealed for food aid for the 2.8 million people facing hunger. Malawi, said the President, needs K83.4 billion for emergency food aid.
But Chaponda said the Malawi delegation, including the President, is between 15 and 20 people and that the rest are sponsored by other foreign governments and international organisations.
He said: “In my ministry, we are only four people—two protocol officers, one political officer and myself—and our cost is met by the UN office. Ministry of Trade and Industry has two people while OPC [Office of the President and Cabinet] also has two people.”
Chaponda said the number flying around in the social media was “high and exaggerated”, adding that the large part that is being taken as part of the Malawi delegation was from civil society organisations (CSOs).
“The people have been paid by other embassies,” he said.
The minister said it was necessary for the President to attend the UNGA meeting because UN was introducing post-2015 development agenda at the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
He said: “There were eight goals of which Malawi only managed to achieve four goals. This time there will be post-2015 development agenda which will run up to 2063.”
Meanwhile, Britain, one of the governments said to have sponsored some of the delegates, has said it is up to the Malawi Government to give full details of numbers and all costs involved in the entourage.
British High Commissioner Michael Nevin said in an interview on Tuesday: “It is for the government to explain its decision making on priorities to the Malawi people, and to provide them with the full detail of numbers and all the costs involved.”
Nevin said his government and other development partners raised with Malawi Government the likely criticism that would come over the government entourage.
“We and other partners raised with the Malawi Government the likely criticism about the rumoured numbers going to UNGA, particularly at a time of severe budgetary and food pressure,” he said.
Former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika and his successor Joyce Banda also faced similar criticism and scrutiny over their entourage to the UN.