Malawi President Joyce Banda will not have a special budget to anchor her chairpersonship of Sadc, a departure from Bingu wa Mutharika’s time as African Union (AU) leader, Treasury has confirmed.
But this approach has received mixed views. Press Corporation Limited chief executive officer Professor Matthews Chikaonda, who was minister of Finance when retired president Bakili Muluzi became Sadc chair in January 2001, said “it is desirable and most prudent to have a stand-alone account for such special activities for the sake of transparency and accountability”.
But Muluzi said this week there is no need for a special monetary allocation for the President’s role as Sadc chair.
“The issue of heavy cost on Malawi does not arise at all because when you are chairperson, it is the executive secretary who normally travels to consult you,” Muluzi said
When the late Mutharika chaired the AU between 2010 and 2011, he had a K500 million (about $1.2m) budget which his administration defended as “important to operationalise the roles at that level.” But the opposition then and other commentators said a separate budget was not necessary.
The Ministry of Finance said on Thursday “there are no special funds just for the purpose of Sadc chairperson.” The announcement was made as President Joyce Banda is expected to take over as Sadc chair today.
Already budgeted for
Said Treasury publicist Nations Nsowoya: “International meetings are already budgeted for. As such, there is no need for a special budget. As Treasury, we are also seeing a lot of savings because most meetings will be taking place here as we chair Sadc.”
However, Nsowoya backed the stand-alone budget for Mutharika, saying: The “AU chairmanship required a lot more travel.”
In an interview on Thursday, Chikaonda stressed the need for a special account so people can follow what is happening in that account.
“There are meetings the President will be handling as Sadc chair and there are those she will be doing as State President, which budget will handle these two together?” asked Chikaonda, who is also former Reserve Bank governor.
He said even in business, “it is difficult to jumble such things together.”
Chikaonda also hinted that a similar need arose when Muluzi became Sadc chair, saying “there were a number of meetings held discussing such issues.” He did not elaborate why the account was not put in place then.
Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) executive director Dalitso Kubalasa and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) national secretary Chris Chisoni agreed with Chikaonda.
Said Kubalasa: “In Malawi, we have ever seen it before where, without proper planning and budgeting, government has ended up putting pressure on its scarce resources, further stifling other priority budget lines, just to get some of the activities related to chairing such institutions covered.
“Government should come clean [for the sake of] transparency and accountability on the sort of budget it has in place even as a contingency from the outset rather than getting everybody shocked later, with huge unplanned expenditures.”
On his part, Chisoni said by creating a separate budget, the late Mutharika knew that technically, money will not just be spent wantonly.
“Operating without a budget begs the important question of how will they operationalise the chairpersonship. Unless the Sadc Secretariat clarifies how they bankroll that office, this is only politically sensible, but technically it doesn’t make sense,” Chisoni said.
Former chair speaks
But Muluzi, who chaired the regional bloc between 2001 and 2002, on Wednesday argued that being Sadc chair is not a full-time job and does not require a lot of spending.
“In most cases, the chair is only handling meetings. I don’t think it’s much in terms of money apart from what you spend for hosting [a summit],” he added.
Muluzi also congratulated President Banda on being entrusted with the office of Sadc chair.
Malawi planned to spend K500 million (about $1.2m) to host the current summit in Lilongwe.
Muluzi said he never understood why Mutharika had to budget for his AU chairpersonship.
“I found our budgeting for the AU chairmanship a bit strange because by doing so, you are only eating into the national resources meant for other important social commitments,” he said.
Director of finance at Sadc’s Secretariat Clement Kanyama said in an interview on Thursday that chairing of the bloc “does not result in a significant financial burden for a country and, therefore, no need for budget.”
“As you chair, you perform the functions of a chair through institutions that are laid down under Article Nine of the Sadc Treaty,” he said.
Under Article 9, the institution includes the summit of Heads of State and Government, Council of Ministers, sectoral and cluster ministerial committees, standing committee of officials, secretariat, the tribunal and Sadc national committees.
“When a summit is not meeting, a chair of Sadc is able to consult colleagues, heads of States, to make some decisions if they are urgent and the chair will inform the executive secretary to proceed,” he added.
According to Kanyama, a country such as Malawi already contributes to the operations of Sadc through membership fees “and all member States already have the capacity through their structures to handle Sadc-related matters.”
“These are activities already approved through parliaments. I need to emphasise here that at regional level,
Sadc operates through the secretariat,” he said.
According to Article 14 of the Sadc Treaty, “the secretariat shall be the principal executive institution of Sadc.”
“Secretariat has a budget that is contributed to by all member States in accordance with a formula which recognises differences in the size of the economy,” said Kanyama, adding that all activities of Sadc are already included in the bloc’s master budget.
In addition, Malawi already has a structure that deals with all issues of Sadc, he said. “I am not, therefore, able to see huge cash flow burden or indeed cost to the country that is chairing Sadc. I am only seeing a necessary investment for the country,” he said.
According to the new chairperson of the Sadc Council, principal secretary for Ministry of Foreign Affairs George Mkondiwa, Malawi expects a forex inflow for the next 12 months President Banda will be at the bloc’s helm.
“Just beginning with this hosting, how many people have come and how much is that in terms of forex? Most of these people have paid for their own accommodation and that’s a boost to the hotel industry,” he said.
He suggested that this is likely to continue throughout the chairmanship “because there will be a lot of meetings taking place here.”
Kanyama added on to the list of benefits accrued to the host country, saying these benefits “are the reason heads of State agreed to share and rotate the chairing of Sadc.”
According to him, “a country that is chairing Sadc is put on the map because its head of State has an opportunity to engage heads of States and heads of global institutions.”
Muluzi, who has been invited to attend the opening session, had a word for Malawians: “Let’s all be supportive of this chairmanship because it is an honour to the nation.”