Government has resurrected the controversial presidential jet dream as it has transpired that it plans to buy another one, now pegged at K51 billion.
The Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Security, which is backing the move, and Treasury have confirmed the plans coming before the dust on the sale of the presidential jet in 2012 has settled.
But the Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) has condemned authorities for being insensitive considering the size of the country’s economy and the pressing needs facing the nation.
The House committee said the new plan is being supported by the Malawi Defence Force (MDF), who are citing security reasons as the main factor the President needs a jet.
According to sources, the issue of purchasing a new presidential jet was tabled at a cluster meeting between MDF officials and the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Security in May this year.
At the meeting, according to sources, the MDF stressed that it was concerned about the security of the Head of State, who is currently using either chartered or commercial flights, saying there is need to have the new plane “urgently”.
But MDF was non-committal on the matter, with its spokesperson Paul Chiphwanya referring Nation on Sunday to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), where chief director Cliff Chiunda equally refused to comment, asking Nation on Sunday to check with MDF.
However, a report from the meeting, which we have seen, corroborated information from sources.
“Our cluster, saw the importance of having our [own] jet, as a result in this budget we need to allocate some resources to procure our own aircraft. Let us accept that the mistake was made to sell our plane and we need one urgently. The committee noted that this is not a one-year issue, but we can start this year. The budget is K51 billion,” reads part of the parliamentary report.
In a telephone interview, chairperson of the joint committee on defence and security Alex Major confirmed having talks with MDF, stressing that it is the view of the committee that the presidential jet should be purchased as a matter of priority.
Treasury spokesperson Davis Sado said he was aware of the plans, but there was no allocation yet due to forthcoming financially demanding exercises of population and housing census as well as elections.
But Mejn executive director Dalitso Kubalasa said it would be insensitive of government to think of buying a plane, which only benefits an individual at the expense of other pressing needs.
He said the plane would heavily eat into recources meant to help the ailing economy due to high running costs.
“Looking at those figures, I have not seen them, I am relying on your word, K51 billion just for one person does not make sense. And I know the President already has other security detail around him, which I think is enough at the moment. I am sure we need to look at our priorities again,” said Kubalasa.
Mzuzu University security studies lecturer Eugenio Njoloma, however, backed the plan to have a new jet for the Head of State, saying the use of chartered or commercial flights exposed the President to danger. He said the security of the Head of State is important, regardless of the size of the economy.
“When the President uses commercial flights, no matter how private the class of his flight is, his security can still get compromised. It could be on the plane, or even at the airport as he awaits a connecting flight. The security here, again, concerns the unnecessary time he spends waiting to connect. It makes the travel details of the President so predictable, thereby enhancing vulnerability,” he argued.
But Njoloma said with the so many reports of plunder of public resources, it would be difficult for people to buy into the idea of purchasing the jet, adding that there is need for the political leadership to improve on governance to have the support of the people.
In 2009, President Bingu wa Mutharika purchased a jet at an estimated cost of K16 billion ($22 million), which was later sold by his successor Joyce Banda in 2012 at a lower price of K9.4 billion ($13 million). Banda argued that the plane was a burden to the economy.
The jet had an annual running cost of over K200 million ($300 000).
Since assuming office in 2014, this is the second time the DPP-led administration is considering buying a presidential jet. In 2015, when government raised the same intention, it was forced to make a U-turn on the matter after some Britons in the United Kingdom called for the freeze of aid over the issue.
The controversial sale of the presidential jet at $13 million by the Banda administration is still mired in controversy as the Peter Mutharika administration maintains it was illegal and worth investigating as there was no evidence of the proceeds of the sale benefitting the country.