President Peter Mutharika is set to leave for the 70th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York this Thursday with what Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Francis Kasaila described as a “reduced” entourage.
During a news conference in Lilongwe on Monday the minister could not specify how many people were making Mutharika’s “reduced” entourage.
Said Kasaila: “This time around, government has put stringent measures to all the ministries on delegates going to the [UN] assembly. We informed the American Embassy not to issue any visa to any person without verification with the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
“I don’t have the exact number of delegates that are on the entourage now. But all I can say is that we have reduced the number of people accompanying the President.”
His sentiments come against a background of criticism of Mutharika’s UNGA delegations over the past two years; especially last year’s case when sources indicated the Malawi delegation comprised 121 people. However, Capital Hill maintained the President’s entourage comprised 20 people and that other Malawians who attended the meeting were sponsored by UN agencies or other financiers.
Critics have argued that large Malawi delegations reflected negatively on the government’s commitment to fiscal discipline amid the suffering of ordinary Malawians.
According to Kasaila, among the delegates that will be accompanying the President, five of them have received air tickets from some development partners.
He said those not on the confirmed list of the Malawi delegation will not be allowed to attend the meeting as all the delegates shall first be scrutinised before entering the UNGA compound.
Kasaila said the total cost of the trip to the taxpayer and the size of the official Malawi delegation would be established by the end of this week.
He said: “Not all the people that are going are being funded by the government. There are various other organisations that take advantage of the summit and sponsor their representatives.”
However, Kasaila said apart from addressing the general assembly, the President is scheduled to attend 10 side meetings, including bilateral meetings on higher-level education, women empowerment and briefing various leaders on the food situation in the country.
He added that the Malawi leader is also scheduled to meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Last year, Mutharika said the Malawi delegation had 106 people and that a fraction of it was funded by Malawi Government.