Despite government committing to cut expenditure on external travel, President Peter Mutharika has included at least 10 traditional leaders in his delegation to the 20th Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) Summit in Lusaka, Zambia.
The Nation has established that the chiefs in the President’s entourage include Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa V of Mzimba, Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe of Rumphi, senior chiefs Makwangwala (Ntcheu) and Kapeni (Blantyre) and traditional authorities (T/As) Champiti of Ntcheu and Nkanda of Mulanje.
The chiefs are being accommodated at Southern Sun Hotel in the Zambian capital city whose rates are pegged at between $140 (about K102 760) and $200 (K146 800) per night, according to online search.
But Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi justified the inclusion of the 10 chiefs in the delegation, saying traditional leaders need to appreciate what transpires in Comesa to promote regional integration and coexistence.
The minister, who is the official government spokesperson, added that benefits of exposing the chiefs to the Comesa summit outweigh the costs.
Said Dausi: “I think there is value in having countries interact at that level [of traditional leaders]. That is our understanding.”
Through the reception telephone line at Southern Sun Hotel, The Nation was put through to the room of Senior Chief Makwangwala who, however, cut off the line immediately the subject was introduced.
T/A Makanjira of Mangochi, who is another guest at the hotel, also cut the line when the hotel connected us to his room.
The Nation could not speak to M’mbelwa, Chikulamayembe and Kapeni as they were reported to be out of their hotel rooms.
Reacting to the development, rights activist Gift Trapence described the move as an abuse of public funds.
He said: “This is a clear indication that the President is not serving the best interests of Malawians. He is more interested with political survival through abuse of public resources to get political patronage. He preaches austerity measures, but he is the first person to break that.”
This is not the first time the President has attracted criticism for bloated delegations on international trips. In 2015, he came under fire for taking a bigger delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Ironically, in his speech at the summit, the President spoke about his government controlling unnecessary public spending.
He said: “When I came to lead Malawi in 2014, we found a very difficult economic situation… We had to take a route of tough austerity measures, which included cutting down on travel. Regrettably, that may have limited our participation in some forums, but we just had to cut down on spending to improve the economy.”