Malawi’s State House response was swift, coated with an angry tone and carried figures aimed at spinning a negative narrative of Executive extravagance at a time the masses were suffering.
These were attempts to debunk a Weekend Nation investigative story which reported that not only had State House blown its K1.8 billion (about $4.6 million) annual allocation within five months, but had also overspent the vote at that point (November 2012) by K800 million (about $2m), having appropriated K2.6 billion (about $6.6m).
But with Parliament approving K3.6 billion (about $9.2m) for State Residences on Friday—double what was approved in the original 2012/13 National Budget—State House on Saturday ducked questions to explain its bloated allocation.
State House could also not respond to a questionnaire sent to them to justify the statement it released in December immediately after the budget blowing story, calling our sister paper’s report untrue.
The fact, said the statement at the time, was that the K2.6 billion or “slightly more” would be the amount State House would spend by the end of the 2012/13 fiscal year in June this year against the parliamentary approved estimate of K1.8 billion for the fiscal year.
State House went ahead to justify—and in the end box itself in—why the final figure for the current fiscal year would be K2.6 billion.
“The fact of the matter is that actual expenditure for State House during the 2011/12 budget was K2.5 billion. The new administration also found debts amounting to K600 million. Treasury allocated K1.8 billion during the 2012/13 fiscal year; thus lower by K700 million (about $1.7 million) than the actual budget provided last year.
“Out of the K1.8 billion allocated for this financial year, State House paid some of its outstanding debts amounting to K400 million.”
But according to the supplementary budget that Finance Minister Dr Ken Lipenga re-tabled in Parliament last week, State House has asked for—and the House approved—K3.6 billion as revised budget for State Residences under vote 050.
The revised allocation is double the K1.8 billion approved allocation and K1 billion more than the K2.6 billion the State House statement dismissing the Weekend Nation story said State Residences would spend this financial year.
The vote—which proposed that the provision of K1 842 789 740 for State Residences be revised to K3 592 356 974—was temporarily rejected by MPs during committee of supply on Friday morning. The vote later passed using a roll call, with 84 legislators supporting it, 52 against and nine abstained whereas 47 MPs were absent.
Asked to justify the doubling of budget allocation to State Residences, Malawi’s Ministry of Finance spokesperson Nations Msowoya said Treasury only takes votes to Parliament and is not responsible for their costing and justification.
“The costing is done by State Residences and they are better placed to speak on justification and other things. Talk to the director general of State Residences or [presidential spokesperson Steven] Nhlane…,” said Msowoya.
When contacted, Nhlane asked for a questionnaire which he promised to respond to by midday Saturday. As we went to press, he was yet to respond.
‘Budget doubling was unnecessary’
Commenting on the additional funding for State House, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace national secretary Chris Chisoni said doubling the allocation to this vote was unnecessary.
“The State Residences vote is not a pro-poor budget line. It is not linked to delivery of basic services, so why increase it by such amounts? This is especially depressing given that this vote is not held to account and no one monitors these resources. Even after taking devaluation into account, doubling the allocation is a joke,” he said.
Added Chisoni: “I am surprised that MPs did not scrutinise this vote thoroughly given that Weekend Nation had already blown the whistle in December. Instead, after listening to people’s cries that the President was travelling too much, the MPs have just empowered her with more resources to travel some more and blow more taxpayers’ money. It is unfortunate.”
The doubling of the State House allocation comes amid concerns from various quarters that President Joyce Banda’s numerous travels and those of officials in her administration were draining public resources.
But the President—while instituting spending control measures largely targeting civil servants such as curtailing travel—has remained defiant about her own travel and is currently on the road constantly, criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country distributing maize, inspecting crops and attending to mundane functions fit for a district commissioner, principal secretary or Cabinet minister.
The travel budget is one of the major causes of over expenditure, according to Treasury.
For example, a Ministry of Finance quarterly budget performance report for this current financial year covering the July-September period—revealed that government spent roughly three times more than what was approved as the travel budget for the period.
The report showed that in the last quarter, internal travel went up by 82 percent; external travel jumped 262 percent whereas motor vehicle running expenses leaped 115 per cent.
According to the report, government spent K2.3 billion (about $5.8m) on internal travel in the first quarter of 2012/13 National Budget against the planned K1.24 billion (about $3.1m).
External travel budget jumped from a targeted K216 million (about $556 843) to K782 million (about $1.9 million) whereas motor vehicle maintenance costs moved from K641 million (about $1.4m) to K1.4 billion (about $3.5m).