- APM abandons ‘expensive’ hotel, goes for ‘cheaper’ accommodation
In the heat of growing criticism of Malawi’s entourage to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, President Peter Mutharika has abandoned the richly styled New York luxury hotel rooms at Waldorf Astoria and sought cheaper accommodation at a Hilton hotel in the same city.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation George Chaponda, answering some of the questions The Nation sent to State House press office in New York, said in an e-mail response that the President has the cheapest accommodation compared to leaders of other governments.
According to a Malawi News Agency (Mana) report, officials at the Malawi Embassy in New York had booked the President at the luxurious five-star Waldof Astoria Hotel in New York, but upon learning about the cost, Mutharika is reported to have refused to occupy it.
Mana quotes Chief Secretary to Government George Mkondiwa as confirming that Mutharika switched hotels in New York, but that he refused to disclose where he had moved to.
‘‘I can only confirm that the President directed us to look for another accommodation for him. I cannot disclose the reasons and the new hotel. It is unethical’’, Mana quotes Mkondiwa.
The President left the country on Monday to attend the 70th UNGA after sending an appeal for humanitarian food assistance for about 2.8 million Malawians facing hunger.
Reports indicate that he has gone with an entourage of at least 100 people, drawing anger nationwide for what critics say is extravagance in the middle of a fiscal and hunger crisis government is failing to tame because it does not have the money.
But Capital Hill claims most of the people said to be on the government delegation are sponsored by various organisations and have nothing to do with the presidential team.
Rates at Waldorf Astoria Hotel range from $469 (K267 330) to $560 (K319 200) per day while at New York Hilton Midtown; the cheapest room is at $199 (K113 430) per day.
During the same trip last year, Mutharika drew criticism for staying at Waldorf Astoria in Midtown Manhattan where taxpayers paid $2 000 a day for the room which on a normal day costs about $390. It is likely that this time around the hotel is more than $2 000.
On Wednesday, taxpayer-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) reported that Mutharika was now lodging at a Hilton hotel.
He said in the presidential entourage, besides the number that was presented to Malawians of 20 delegates, State House has a minimum number of people to provide security.
“…and this is confidential,” he said, insisting that his ministry’s officials were fully sponsored by the United Nations (UN). “The UN is engaged in issues involving other ministries and their presence is equally important.”
He said at this visit Malawi did not deploy advance staff “for four months”.
Asked about some of the names, including party supporters, Chaponda wrote: “As a Malawian journalist, you are wasting your time and energy on petty issues. I invite you to focus on the Cashgate where your services could best be utilised to retrieve the money which was stolen or bring back people in hiding abroad.”
Presidential press secretary Gerald Viola said the delegation also included the military, security detail, medical doctors and intelligence team who accompany the President every time he goes within Malawi and abroad.
He also said Malawian journalists and the President’s medical team were also being counted as part of the delegation because to gain access to wherever the President is, they are supposed to register as Malawi delegates.
He further said the figure might be bloated because delegates from Malawi’s Embassy in USA and other countries also had to register as Malawi delegates to gain access to the assembly. He also said there is no single traditional leader on the delegation.
In his statement, Viola said other members in the delegation include Chaponda, Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati, Minister of Industry and Trade Joseph Mwanamvekha, Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume, Chief Secretary to the Government George Mkondiwa, Ministry of Health Principal Secretary (PS) Charles Mwansambo and Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare PS Mary Shawa.
He also said three advisers Francis Mphepo (politics), Collins Magalasi (economics) and Colette Thornicroft (international relations) are in the delegation.
Chaponda said in an earlier interview on Monday some embassies sponsored some of the delegates to the UN. While Britain on Tuesday said it is up to Lilongwe to explain its entourage, Germany said yesterday it has not sponsored a delegate.
Said German Ambassador Peter Woeste in a written reaction: “As there have been questions on the funding of Malawi’s UN delegation and in particular the assumption that most of the costs have been covered by embassies I wanted to bring to your attention that no funds from the German side have been used to finance the trip of any of the participants.”