Members of Parliament (MPs) have queried the K1.4 billion (about $2million) allocation to Very Very Important Persons (VVIP) functions under the State Residences vote which indicates that President Peter Mutharika could make about 30 State visits in the 2016/17 financial year.
The 30 State visits translate to at least two trips a month, a development chairperson of Legal Affairs and Statutory Commissions Cluster Committee, Lilian Patel, described as unrealistic.
“I don’t think the figures are realistic. I very much doubt that the President had anywhere near 30 State visits in the previous year. If in a year we are budgeting for 30, which are more than two State visits a month, that cannot be right,” Patel said.
The State Residences vote has always courted controversy for containing allocations which the Minister of Finance has on many occasions successfully defended such as agricultural inputs and irrigation services.
The allocation, which falls under Presidency Office and Residence Management under the new programme-based budget, also indicates that the President will make 25 development trips and attend 40 State functions in the 2016/17 financial year.
The allocation to the programme, which amounts to K1.4 billion, is about 26 percent of the K5.3 billion (about $7.7million) allocation to State Residences, and includes K156 million (about $226 951) for allowances and other emoluments.
Deputy director general for State Residences, Lawford Palani, said the sub-programme on VVIP functions was budgeted for to cater for unplanned visits to districts affected by hunger or floods and after taking into consideration previous spending patterns.
He said the State visits included travels by the President to the United Nations, Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Heads of State Summit, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and other bilateral meetings.
However, budget allocations to these trips have come at a time when the President has drastically reduced international trips in view of the country’s poor economic situation.
But when grilled further, Palani conceded: “Members will agree with me that the budget formulation exercise involves so many factors and there can be oversight. I will liaise with our colleagues at the office on the way forward.”
Treasury has also given State Residences a ceiling to purchase eight vehicles because it has not bought a new fleet since 2007, Palani said.
The K5.3 billion allocation to State Residences includes K2.4 billion for household management, security, VVIP, communications and K1.9 billion for human resource management and financial administration.
The committee has since resolved to summon officials from Treasury to explain some of the allocations, among them an entry of K95 million allegedly spent on construction of the banquet hall at Kamuzu Palace which Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe had initially told Parliament was not funded in the 2015/16 budget. n