There was an uproar in Parliament yesterday as opposition legislators queried a K7 billion allocation for relief food in the budget for the Office of the Vice-President, fearing that it can be politicised.
The budget for the office under delegated functions has increased from K6 billion in 2017/18 financial year to K10.5 billion, with funds for relief maize going up from K3.3 billion in the current financial year to K7 billion in the proposed 2018/19 budget.
Vice-President Saulos Chilima is the Minister responsible for Disaster Management Affairs and also in-charge of National Public Events.
Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe’s explanation that Chilima’s role required additional funding for purchase of relief maize did not satisfy some members of Parliament (MPs).
The MPs wondered why the funding for maize was going to the VP’s office when K20 billion had already been allocated to State produce trader Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) for buying maize.
Dowa East MP Richard Chimwendo Banda (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) said the additional K7 billion to the office for food procurement meant that government was allocating K27 billion to maize purchases.
Lilongwe North East MP Maxwell Thyolera (MCP) argued that for better management of disasters, the money should go to Unforeseen Expenditures vote.
“As it is now, we allocate little money to this. Instead of K15 billion, only K2 billion is allocated,” he said.
But other MPs simply had problems with allocating the large amount of money to the office due to the political situation Chilima is in.
“This government has experienced one Cashgate after another and now we are throwing money where we traditionally have not thrown money. Putting the money for maize in the Vice-President’s office will not work,” Dedza East MP Juliana Lunguzi (MCP) chipped in.
To this, Chimwendo Banda added: “The minister may think we don’t want this money to cater for relief food, but we are saying instead he should not put this money in the VP’s office, but allocate one percent of the budget to unforeseen expenditures.”
The Vice President’s allocation received support from the government side with Mulanje Bale MP Victor Musowa (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP) wondering why the opposition legislators were against budgeting for relief maize when their constituencies were experiencing food shortages.
Gondwe clarified that the allocation to the Office of the Vice-President was for the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma).
He said: “This is something that used to be taken care of by development partners, but this year we are on our own. We will not depend on others to provide food to those who will experience shortages and will not have money to buy from Admarc.”
In the end, Parliament approved the K12.3 billion allocation as well as 13 other votes.
The minister deferred the votes for the Judiciary, National Assembly and National Local Government Finance Committee.
Chilima has indicated he is quitting the governing DPP amid calls by some members of the DPP national governing council (NGC) canvassing for his nod to contest for the presidency in the May 2019 Tripartite Elections. The Chilima Movement, asked Mutharika, 79, to pave the way for Chilima, 45, to lead DPP. Chilima said he will make a statement on his political future at a later stage.