Vice-President Saulos Chilima, who is also UTM party president, left for Abuja, Nigeria yesterday to attend a high-level meeting on mitigating disruptive applications of information and communication technology (ICT) in electoral processes in Africa.
The meeting, where delegates are expected to share experiences on the use of ICT services during election processes, is chaired by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who also invited Chilima for another meeting in October this year.
Special assistant to the Vice-President on economic affairs Milward Tobias said in a telephone interview yesterday that Chilima notified the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) about his trip, which he is attending at Obasanjo’s invitation for the second time, following another one in October this year. He said the trip is fully-funded by organisers.
He said: “Firstly, we need to understand that Chilima is the Vice-President of the country. As such, the law provides for his entitlements when travelling. But because of the nature of his personality, all trip expenses have been met by organisers.
“[Essentially], this is a private trip. The invitation came to him direct from Nigeria. There is no government money used for his trip.”
In October, Chilima also made foreign trips to the United Kingdom, Nigeria and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a development which drew State House anger.
President Peter Mutharika’s press secretary and spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani at the time described the Veep’s trips as “a blatant disregard of government protocol and international diplomacy”.
The two-day meeting, which began yesterday, will produce a report on the strengths and challenges in the use of ICT and models of successful deployment of ICT in electoral systems in Africa for sustenance of democracy on the continent.
According to Tobias, the meeting, which has come five months before Malawians vote in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections, is important because participants will share information on continental experiences regarding the use of ICT services in the elections process.
Chancellor College-based political scientist Mustaffa Hussein said Chilima is free to either disseminate the information he will get for the general good of Malawians or to use it for the benefit of his party.
He said: “We need to know whether the invitation was sent to him as a government official. If he was invited as the Veep, then it is expected that the invitation should have gone through government. The invitation might have been sent to him because of personal contact with organisers or because of his role in ICT. He might be going there as an expert in ICT.”
According to international media reports, other delegates attending the meeting include former State presidents John Mahama of Ghana, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and former prime ministers Raila Odinga of Kenya and Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia. Former leaders of election observer teams are also attending.
Kalilani told The Nation last month that Chilima did not attend the October foreign meetings as a governmental official delegated by the President as required by the government protocol.
However, he could not comment on whether President Mutharika was aware, this time around, that his deputy has left for the Abuja meeting.