With the State Residence vote receiving K6.7 billion amid the economic squeeze, calls have resurfaced for the Peter Mutharika administration to reduce the number of State residences as economists argue that they continue to drain the taxpayer-funded public purse.
But government has said the matter needs thorough consultations.
The six presidential palaces that the Mutharika administration has maintained are New State House and Mtunthama State Lodge in Lilongwe, Sanjika Palace in Blantyre, Chikoko Bay in Mangochi, Zomba State House and Mzuzu State Lodge.
In the just passed 2017/18 National Budget totaling K1.3 trillion, the State Residence vote was allocated K6.7 billion up from K5.5 billion from the previous financial plan, a development Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) and Economic Association of Malawi (Ecama) believe could have been carefully scrutinised and rationalised in the context of fiscal discipline and prudence.
Mejn executive director Dalitso Kubalasa told Nation on Sunday in an interview that although the idea behind increasing allocation to the State House vote is to ensure that excellent services are provided to the Head of State, there is need for authorities to be realistic and for those in high positions to suffer a little with the rest of Malawians.
Kubalasa said the issue of shedding off some State residences does not entail that one is against the leadership but that it is always an issue of prudence and fiscal restraint.
“Besides, any savings made in one area such as the State Residences could go a long way in easing up fiscal pressure elsewhere, in the face of all of these competing priorities being faced by Malawians,” he said.
The Mejn boss added that there are some expenses that could be easily revised downwards without compromising the excellent service to the Head of State.
Kubalasa also questioned the allocation of 396 000 litres of fuel in the State Residences budget for a year as an expense needing a close scrutiny.
He said other expenses that need rationalisation are horticulture services amounting to K1.101 billion that also includes the expenses to tend for 250 hectares of lawns and flowers as well as personnel costs for 871 members of staff.
“Otherwise the calls for rationalisation of the State Residences and the reduced convoys, among all the other recommendations that have been made, have been more inclined towards this aspect of prudence and easing up on the economy’s fiscal pressure that has been growing every year and that is slowly but steadily growing into a menacing time bomb for the economy,” Kubalasa said.
Ecama has more than once in its pre-budget contributions recommended the reduction of the number of State Houses by either turning their use into commercial or using the infrastructure for historic tourism purposes.
Ecama president Henry Kachaje in a response to a questionnaire said it is a concern that the country continues to spend money on maintaining State Residences that are not even used for official purposes.
“As a country which is striving to cover its recurrent budget from locally-generated resources, it is prudent to cut out any expenses that we can. Reducing the number of State Residences is one option because it will not only help reduce expenditure, but also demonstrate that the leadership is taking the lead in cost cutting,” he said.
In a telephone interview, spokesperson for Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Alfred Kutengule said Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) was in a better position to decide on the number of State Houses the country should have.
Efforts to speak to chief secretary to Government Lloyd Muhara proved futile as his phone went unanswered both on Friday and yesterday.
But government spokesperson, who is also Minister of Information and Communications Technology, Nicholas Dausi said he needs more time to consult on whether government may consider reducing the number of State Houses.
He, however, said plans in 2010 by former President Bingu wa Mutharika to turn Zomba State House into a state-of- the-art hospital could not be implemented after his death as his successor Joyce Banda reversed the decision and started to renovate the oldest palace.
Dausi also attributed the failure by the current Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration to implement the dream by the late Mutharika to financial constraints following revelations of Cashgate and withdraw of direct budget support by development partners.
He said: “Right now, Zomba State House is habitable, but a decision will have to be made by the current administration on how to go about with the old plans by the late Mutharika.” n