- Government buys five new cars for ministers
He promised to cut expenses associated with the government’s vehicle fleet by reducing the number of cars and maintenance costs, among other measures.
But instead, Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe has bought five new top-of-the-range Toyota Land Cruisers (Prado VXL) for some of his Cabinet colleagues.
The purchase comes at a time government is struggling to finance its health budget with most hospitals perpetually failing to stock their pharmacies with essential drugs as the 2018/2019 health budget was significantly cut.
According to our price inquiry from Toyota Malawi, where vehicles were bought, each car costs about K106 259 996, which brings the total to over K525 million.
Despite Gondwe justifying the spending as budgeted for, the Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama) has said government should not have bought the vehicles in the spirit of public expenditure control.
The five vehicles include one that belonged to Minister of Information and Communication Technology Henry Mussa, which was burnt to ashes in an inferno at his house a couple of weeks ago.
Yet, in an exclusive interview with our sister newspaper The Nation in 2016, Gondwe had outlined measures to reduce wasteful expenditure to enable him to manage the fiscal position, some of which were set to come into effect in 2017 and included reducing a huge fleet of vehicles.
The minister said Capital Hill could even look at whether it needs to maintain a huge fleet of vehicles and its expenses.
“There is quite a lot of expenditure which is chaff and can be cut off and we can continue working very efficiently without it,” Gondwe was quoted as saying.
Last year, government also bought five cars for some ministers, even when the economy continued to sail in troubled waters, with ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) facing cuts in their budgetary allocations.
Said Gondwe in backing the expenditure in an interview for this story: “Well, the ministers are extremely valuable in the system and cannot work without a car. So, we budgeted for these cars, not 20, but every year we budgeted for few. I think last year, we did five and this year it is the same number. There are a number of them [ministers] who do not have a car at all. So, they have to use very old third-hand cars.”
But Ecama president Chikumbutso Kalilombe said in the spirit of public expenditure control measures, government did not need to buy such expensive cars.
According to Kalilombe, government may be legally justified to make the purchase, but it raises moral questions “that the Executive branch does not want to suffer like the rest of the sectors because of the prevailing economic challenges”.
He added: “This is just a symptom. I don’t know what other expenditures have been done where we will get an explanation that it was budgeted for. The question is: Is that the best solution they have had looking at the situation? Have they looked at all the options? I don’t know how old those cars are because the argument maybe that the cars are old, but if we are indeed suffering, why don’t we go with what we have, without spending some more”.
When asked on why government could not consider cheaper cars than the high-priced latest Toyota Prado VXL they had settled for, Gondwe said the whole reason government stopped using the Mercedes Benz was the issue of the high cost.
He, however, stuck to his guns, saying the purchase must not be described as ‘extravagance’ simply because beneficiaries were ministers, arguing a number of chief executive officers (CEOs) of parastatals drive more expensive cars.
“You are stopping at ministers, but what about chief executive officers in the industry, what do they get? They are getting much more expensive cars; I was looking at the car being driven by MRA [Malawi Revenue Authority] boss. A Land cruiser top-of-the-range and if you see the car being driven by [CEO] Press Corporation, it is the same…but you are always looking at ministers. Ministers are the most disregarded group of people and yet they are the people who do the most,” argued Gondwe.
Last year, government came under fire after it purchased 12 new vehicles (Toyota TX) for principal secretaries, which amounted to over K1 billion, according to local media reports.
According to government arrangement, ministers are entitled to Toyota Prado VX, which currently costs over K100 million from Toyota Malawi with principal secretaries entitled to Toyota Prado TX whose price hovers between K70 million and K80 million.
But from our interview with Gondwe, government is likely to buy more top-of-the-range Toyota Prado (VX) for few more ministers who are lacking such luxury to strike a balance.
But for Ecama, Parliament is partly to blame for government’s extravagance, arguing that legislators do not query the figures they approve in the budget.
Kalilombe said with cluster meetings during the budget session, MPs should have disapproved some of the allocations; hence, preventing over-expenditure.
MCP spokesperson on finance Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi, however, came to the defence of Parliament, saying MPs have always raised such questions, but the challenge is that Malawi has a presidential-parliamentary system with the Minister of Finance or the Executive wielding more powers than Parliament.
Kusamba-Dzonzi said the minister, because of his powers, literally decide which point to pick during deliberations in the National Assembly.
He said no amount of reason will justify the buying of expensive cars at a time the country is going through many challenges.
“Yes, we budgeted for it. But the role of the minister of finance is to weigh the options. For example, Parliament may budget for the purchase of a presidential jet, but then there are floods somewhere, would you buy a plane and not help those suffering? This is a racket; they buy themselves new cars so that at the end of their term they sell to themselves. We know it,” observed the MCP legislator.