Consumer Association of Malawi (CAMA) contends that Malawians are better judges and critics on the benefits of many of President Lazarus Chakwera’s international and local travels, saying they come with huge and unproductive delegations with a huge negative impact on the country’s resources.
CAMA Executive Director, John Kapito is reacting to Chakwera’s remarks on Saturday during the Karonga-Chitipa Cultural Festival at Mbande Hill when he defended his travel to the US for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and to Europe, saying he managed to secure investments for the economic development of Malawi.
Chakwera said a President goes abroad to represent the whole country, not to represent themselves or their parties but Kapito says argues that the President can indeed represent and carry the Malawi flag but “not necessarily through making unnecessary and expensive trips abroad”.
“Malawians gave the President the mandate to choose among Malawians a team of Cabinet Ministers and Ambassadors through which he can choose those to represent the country on his behalf.
“The President can achieve equally the same results if he can utilize his chosen team and at a cheaper cost. These travels with huge and unproductive delegations are costing Malawians.
Kapito cited an example of former President of Tanzania, late Pombe Magufuli, “who never travelled outside his country but achieved a lot economically for his people within a short period in office because he had clear economic policies”.
“He achieved so much good together with the people around him. President Chakwera can also learn from the President of Zambia, who only travels with a small delegation and chooses his trips.
“He spends shorter periods outside his country and his economy is one of most envied in the Southern African region.”
Kapito maintains that “Malawians are better judges when the President left for the UN. Malawians were promised so many benefits of the trip and one was that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) program would be concluded.
“Unfortunately, the President was told right in the face that the program would not be resumed and instead Malawi was given pro-poor funding so negligible to address the challenges that the President left behind like scarcity of forex and fuel, high exchange rates, high prices of goods, no electricity, etc.
“The IMF funding that has been promised for Malawi is so negligible that it can’t address the challenges facing Malawians. The Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) did not require the presence of the President as it was signed by a Minister.
“The officials from MCC would have come to Malawi if requested to do so and the only achievement that Malawians can remember were photo-shoot opportunities with senior US government officials — and not even with the US President — than any meaningful benefits.”
Kapito added that “Malawians are simply requesting the President to consider the high cost of his many trips with his large delegations” and advised Chakwera that his extravagant travels are hurting poor Malawians”.
“As tax payers, we will not stop advising the President as he continues abusing poor people’s public money. Mr. President, be prudent — we are a poor country and your appetite for travel is creating poverty.”
He concluded that the President should stop castigating the taxpayers from the political podium like he did at the Karonga-Chitipa Cultural Festival where Chakwera said “there were some Malawians writing on social media telling the IMF not to give Malawi any money.
He had said a President carries the flag to represent the whole country, and “it is bad for the country when the outside world sees us castigating our own leaders for representing us around the world, because it discourages foreign investors and development partners”.
He defended his travel to the US, saying he successfully secured a Rapid Credit Facility that will inject US$88 million into the economy, saying “this money is not for me, but for all Malawians — especially those of you who need forex to trade across the border.
“When I went to the USA to secure investments for Malawi, including US$350 million from the US Government for the construction of roads, including roads here in the north, some Malawians said I should not go.
“When I went to Europe to negotiate a €125 million package of support for Malawi, which we finally signed yesterday and part of which will be used to provide food for those whose crops did not do well, some Malawians said I should not go.
“But all these trips abroad were in pursuit of resources Malawians need, and I want to thank all of you who supported my decision to press on, because that is what national unity looks like.”
Malawians, including the civil society organisation, former President Peter Mutharika and Malawi’s Catholic Bishops in their Pastoral Letter released this month, had condemned the government from undertaking the trip to UNGA in the middle of an economic crisis in Malawi, saying the cost of travel for his and his entourage was very high.
This all comes after revelations on social media that over US$21,000 was being spent on allowances per day for Chakwera delegation of 37 people, who were receiving US$560 (about K580,000) each per day in allowances with ministers receiving US$900 (nearly K1 million) per day for 24 days.
The reports said normally, many members of Chakwera’s delegation were supposed to receive US$280 (about K290,000) per day and ministers were required to receive US$450 (about K465,000) per day but the allowances were doubled because of a rise in cost of living in New York.
The revelation of this cost on allowance alone were not officially confirmed and thus Kapito maintains that Malawians are better judges and critics on the benefits of many of Chakwera’s international and local travels.
A fortnight ago, Kapito said Malawians expected the President that upon arrival from the US, he would immediately start addressing critical challenges affecting the country but “were shocked to see both the President and his Vice at a golf charity fundraising event that could have been delegated and reduce the high security cost.
The Presidential Charity Golf had already raised K270 million from the targeted K200 million with contributions from various corporate companies and other well-wishers but the President and his deputy pitched up to play the game at Lilongwe Golf Club.
Kapito said Chakwera spent too long in the US — close to 25 days — leaving behind an economic crisis and at a time Malawians needed his leadership to address the serious economic and social challenges the economy was going through.
“The President with his large delegation took and swept almost every dollar available on the market for activities that he could have conducted with a small number of people for a shorter period considering the cost implications of the trip,” he had said.