President Peter Mutharika on Thursday launched a spirited defence of his administration, particularly over what he sees as unfounded accusations of a bloated entourage to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
Infuriated by accusations that he and members of his administration blow millions of taxpayers’ money on travel in form of allowances, for example, Mutharika also declared that he can do without taxpayers’ money, saying he is not in the job for easy cash.
Mutharika said he was already a millionaire when he returned to Malawi from the United States of America (USA) where he was a university professor.
Mutharika said this during a news conference at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe about four days after returning from a two-week trip to New York, USA where he attended the UNGA.
“You can check my [bank] account in New York,” stressed Mutharika, who had lived and worked in the USA for roughly 40 years before returning to his homeland in 2007.
The President was apparently responding to accusations by some of his critics, including rival politicians, who say he was insensitive and wasteful by approving a bloated Malawi delegation of over 100 people, including praise-singers. The President, according to official communication, approved a list of 18 people for the trip.
Reacting to use of a chartered private jet, the President said he used the executive jet from Lilongwe to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where he took a commercial flight to the USA.
On his return home on Sunday, the President said he again used a private jet on the Dubai-Malawi leg of the trip.
After starting the news conference in a controlled manner, Mutharika developed into a rare belligerent mood which saw him repeatedly branding the critical reports “lies” and “nonsense”.
He said: “This nonsense has to stop.”
At one time, a furious Mutharika banged his table with his hand, reflecting his frustration as he faced journalists.
Early signs that the media would be in for some ‘grilling’ came when presidential press secretary Gerald Viola made what appeared to be an exaggerated comment when he said some of the “negative reports from a particular media house” had alleged that the President went to the UN accompanied “by an entire village from Thyolo”.
Refuting the allegations of lavish spending, the President said he turned out to be the most frugal President among his fellow African heads of State who travelled to the UN. He said his colleagues from other countries in Africa either used hired jets or their government’s planes to travel, and some people were baffled to note that Mutharika had flown in a commercial plane for part of the recent trip.
He revealed that the Malawi delegation to the UN had been 106-strong, a fraction of which was sponsored by the Malawi Government.
Most of the other people in the delegation, he said, were funded by non-governmental stakeholders such as UN agencies and the World Bank.
The President said, comparatively, Malawi’s delegation had been “one of the smallest” at the UN, as one neighbouring country had a delegation of 256.
When question time came, FM 101 journalist Edwin Mauluka boldly asked whether Mutharika was willing to resign, in line with calls by some civil society leaders, over the blunder they saw in the Malawi leader for wasting resources lavishly.
In reply, Mutharika said: “No. I am not going to step down.”
He, however, admitted that people have to endure some socio-economic woes now before they experience better lives in future. He said the economic situation will improve soon.
Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) journalist Tereza Ndanga negotiated her slot to the microphone, to boldly ask whether the President would no longer be hiring private planes for his other travels in future.
Mutharika controlled himself and answered coolly that the reporter had a fixed idea on what she wanted to hear and, “that way, you were not listening to me”.