The State House says estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima made recent foreign trips without the knowledge of President Peter Mutharika, describing it as “a blatant disregard of government protocol and international diplomacy”.
But the Office of the Vice-President (OVP) has said Chilima, who ditched the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and declared he will contest in next year’s presidential race, was on holiday and spent no public funds.
In a separate interview, Malawi Law Society (MLS) said the development is not good in case of any eventuality.
Last month, Chilima travelled to the United Kingdom, Nigeria and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Presidential press secretary and spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani said in an interview on Friday that the Vice-President was expected to notify the President about his travels as required by government protocol.
He said protocol demanded that the Vice-President, Cabinet ministers and their deputies, seek leave from the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) detailing where they intend to go, purpose of the visit, duration and who is responsible for costs.
Said Kalilani: “As far as the President is concerned, the Vice-President is not attending those international engagements as a bonafide official of the Government of Malawi delegated by the President as is required.
“The blatant disregard of government protocol and international diplomacy being displayed by the Vice-President on this issue is very unfortunate as it is embarrassing the whole Government of Malawi and putting its administration into disrepute.”
Principal Secretary in the OVP, Charles Msosa, said Chilima was on holiday when he undertook some of the trips.
He said: “These are private trips that he has been undertaking. Even the recent one [to Dubai] you have mentioned was a private trip. If they were official, I would have been able to talk about them.”
Msosa emphasised that Chilima has not spent public funds on the “private trips”.
In a written response, MLS honorary secretary Martha Kaukonde said much as there is no law obligating the Vice-President to inform the President when travelling abroad, the President and public still needs to know regardless of whether the trips are private or official.
She said: “It is good practice and works well when communication between the parties is working. A similar situation applies to the President who is also supposed to inform the Vice-President of his whereabouts when away so that he can ably deputise him as per the provisions of the Constitution.”
Mutharika has excluded the Vice-President from the Cabinet list announced late last Wednesday, a development the government has brushed off as inconsequential.
During his trip to the UK, the Vice-President was seen in photographs boarding public transport because the Malawi High Commission in London did not offer him official transport.
In the UK, Chilima participated in private engagements, including a meeting with leadership of the Scottish Parliament and made an address at the Cambridge University Africa-Caribbean Society’s inaugural Africa Summit.
Two weeks ago, he was in Nigeria for Africa-Israel Dialogue where he addressed the meeting on Malawi and Africa’s potential in irrigation agriculture technologies.
In Dubai, Chilima attended the Africa Investment Conference organised by the Africa Legal Network where he invited delegates to take part in the annual Malawi Investment Forum and Malawi International Trade Fair.
In February 2014, Mutharika picked Chilima as his running mate in February from the private sector where he worked as managing director of Airtel Malawi.
Since he left DPP in June, the President has stripped him of ministerial positions and other functions assigned to his office. His name missed on the Cabinet list Mutharika released on Wednesday, prompting some legal scholars and MLS to question the legality of the Cabinet without a serving Vice-President.
During his UK trip, Chilima told British Broadcasting Corporation Hard Talk programme that he has not communicated with the President since June. The functions of the Office of the Vice-President in the country are predominantly delegated by the President.