A Scottish newspaper has faulted President Peter Mutharika for allegedly residing in one of that country’s most luxurious hotels alongside five other members of his entourage.
Media reports in Scotland have questioned the cost and nature of his luxurious trip, considering that about half Malawi’s population live below the poverty line.
However, attempts to get a comment from State House proved futile as our calls went unanswered despite several attempts.
On the other hand, when contacted Minister of Information and Communication Technology Nicholas Dausi declined to comment on the issue.
According to an online edition of the Scottish Times, Mutharika and his “six-strong party” was accommodated at Prestonfield Hotel in Edinburgh where the cost of a single suite for one night is up to £450 (about K450 000).
The paper describes the cost as “more than 30 times the money needed to feed a child for a year in the country, saying his stay in Edinburgh had caused concern.
Mutharika was on a week-long State visit to Scotland after attending the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in London. He returned home on April 28.
“He leads a country that has some of the worst poverty in the world but Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika and his entourage have racked up a five-star hotel bill in Scotland large enough to feed hundreds of African children for a year,” reports the paper.
The paper further quotes United Kingdom (UK) governing Conservative Party, saying while there was a clearly merit in supporting Malawi when it comes to tackling poverty “but [what] putting up a government entourage in one of Scotland’s most expensive hotels achieves, that is a mystery.”
“People will wonder about the priorities of this arrangement when such luxury is being footed by the taxpayer,” lamented the party.
While in Scotland, other costs on the Mutharika’s delegation included police security and police outriders for Scottish government-sponsored transport throughout the visit.
However, the paper reports about conflicting statements from the Scottish government and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth office.
While the Scottish Government said it was a standard practice for it to host a visiting head of State and their presidential party for their official programme, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth office indicated the visit by Mutharika and his delegation had not been funded by the UK Government.
“The official presidential party for this visit totalled six people and was part of a wider UK visit, with some of the costs met by external partners and the UK Government. The full Scottish Government costs for the delegation will be published in due course,” said the Scottish Government, which gives Malawi £2.7m (about K2.7 billion) to each year as part of its overseas aid budget.
The paper also quotes Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president and leader of opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera voicing his concern about the expense, calling for an end to “this type of wastefulness”.
But when contacted last evening, Dausi, who is also official government spokesperson, declined to comment on the matter referring The Nation to State House. Presidential spokesperson Mgeme Kalirani was not available.
But reacting to the issue, economist Chikumbutso Kalilombe said much as it was not clearly known who footed the bill based on the conflicting statements he hoped the trip was done in the spirit of the austerity measures government announced during the mid-year budget.
“There was a cut on external travel so we hope that this trip has been done in the same spirit where as much as possible we save from the external travels because commitment has to start from the top.
“We don’t know who paid but if it is the Malawi Government then it [the cost] offsets any saving we have already made in external travel by other officers because when we commit to a thing that commitment should come from the top to down otherwise it should not be seen that we are just punishing the lower ranks not to travel,” said Kalilombe, who is the president of Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama). n