Malawi Government has moved to stem the tide of anger that has been rising following comments that it would be prudent to buy a presidential jet for President Peter Mutharika to save on time he loses, saying no decision has been made on the issue.
Minister of Information Kondwani Nankhumwa told Nation on Sunday in an interview—after some Britons in United Kingdom (UK) had called for the British government to freeze aid to Malawi over the issue—that the suggestion was meant to stir debate.
Nankhumwa, who earlier told the media that in all fairness every country needs a presidential jet for convenient travelling, said since the issue is up for debate, he did not expect any of Malawi’s donors to begin talking of aid freeze over the issue.
Nankhumwa earlier said the President experiences a lot of time losses in flight connections whenever he is on public flights, hence affecting his scheduled meetings.
The minister told the media last week that Malawi erred by selling its presidential jet, arguing that using public flights was inconveniencing the President whenever he travels.
Nankhumwa said it was time the nation started weighing the option of buying a jet as a national asset to be used by leaders or continue chartering as the President did during his recent trip to the USA.
But the suggestion attracted the wrath of some Britons who urged their government to cut aid to Malawi.
The critics in Britain, as quoted by that country’s Express, faulted Malawi Government’s reasoning, describing the suggestion [to own a presidential jet] as “absurd”, especially coming from a country where the majority live below the poverty line.
The Express, in its April 30 edition, says the UK Government spends millions of pounds in aid to Malawi, with this year’s budget estimated at more than £83 million (about K57 billion at the current exchange rate)—equating to 1.18 percent of Britain’s total foreign aid budget.
Nathan Gill, UK Independent Party’s (UKIP) development spokesperson is quoted as saying: “A new Gulfstream [aircraft] costs £42 million (about K28 billion at the current exchange rate), more than 50 percent of the UK’s aid to that troubled country [Malawi].
“This just highlights UKIP’s policy of reducing our development spending and concentrating on dropping trade barriers. If we did that, maybe the people of Malawi would benefit and not just their ridiculous elite.”
Jonathan Foreman, an expert in UK aid, the paper reports, said President Peter Mutharika is likely to opt for a more modest jet, similar to those used by neighbouring African presidents, but it could still severely dent the national budget of Malawi by millions of pounds.
Foreman called for all Britain’s aid funding to Malawi to be halted until assurances were given that Mutharika would not be buying a new jet.
“Mutharika buying a jet for himself while his countrymen live in poverty, and while foreign aid keeps his country’s inadequate schools and clinics going, is the reality behind what the aid industry calls ‘poor governance’.
“It’s because so much aid goes to leaders like him that countries like Malawi remain so poor even after billions have been donated by the West.
“We’ve stopped giving money to the corrupt Malawian government before in 2013 and if [Department for International Development] DfID has any concern at all for the British taxpayer—and for the people of Malawi who are the supposed beneficiaries of UK aid—they would stop all aid to that country until we get assurances that Mutharika won’t be buying any private jet.”
But the DfID, as the Express reports, stressed no UK aid money had been given to the government of Malawi since 2013, when it was suspended over claims of corruption.
Instead, the DfID says, millions in taxpayer funding were channelled to projects carried out by independent aid agencies.
Human rights activist Timothy Mtambo of Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), said opening debate on the matter as Nankhumwa suggested in a democratic society was not wrong.
Mtambo, however, was surprised if government could afford to repeat a mistake the Bingu wa Mutharika administration made to buy a presidential jet.
Mtambo said: “We all know donors were not happy with what government did and they made that clear. We eventually corrected the situation by selling the jet, although there were controversies to it, but I do not think government may start nursing that ambition again of buying another jet.
“Where will the money come from if we are struggling to manage the zero-aid budget? I did not expect this from this government this early. Here is the President who says he is not excited with travels, and where is this coming from?” Mtambo asked.
A presidential jet former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika bought was controversially bartered with Paramount Group after former president Joyce Banda came into power following Mutharika’s death.