At a time Malawi is grappling with forex shortage and on the back of a catalogue of austerity measures which Reverend Lazarus Chakwera announced in June, the OPC approved doubling of allowances for those travelling to the United Nations General Assembly”- Malawi News

LILONGWE-(MaraviPost)-The Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) approved that allowances for those going to the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) be doubled,”Malawi News” can report.

The development comes as Malawi grapples with forex crisis which has hit fuel and fertilizer importation, among others.

Chakwera in attending United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) amid Malawi forex shortage

The doubling means that the majority of those that have travelled to the UNGA have pocketed US$560 (MK591,360) per day.

In recent years, the government used to approve one-and-half rate, translating to US$420 (MK443,520) per day per person.

Normal government external allowance is at US$280 per day per person.

Ministers and principal secretaries get US$450 and US$300 enhanced rates respectively per day and this year, these have been doubled.

The majority of officials who receive US$280 per day have now received $560 per day.

An invoice that we got from one of the travel agents on Tuesday shows that a return air ticket to USA is at MK4.7 million. This was not a direct route.

This means that for the 37 people which the government claims have made President Lazarus Chakwera’s delegation, government may have spent around MK174 million on air tickets alone.

We have established that the team will spend almost three weeks in the USA.

One team left the country on Saturday, September 10, and will be back on September 29.

Chakwera left on September 12, 2022 and is expected to return on October 2, 2022, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

For a picture of Malawi’s Unga spending, we sample the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expenses based on the information in our possession.

The UNGA budget for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs delegation to the United Nations in September 2022 shows that nine officers, including the Minister and Principal Secretary, will be in the US for 24 days. Some officers in the ministry will be there for 25 days while others will be there for 27 days.

The information shows that the Minister gets US$450 which, when doubled, stands at US$900 per day. She will get US$120 for telephone.

In total, the Minister gets MK25.7 million in allowances. The PS and the other officials from the ministry get a combined MK131.3 million in allowances.

It has also spent MK54.3 million for air tickets, car hire and secretarial work for the ministry officials.

The information shows that three officers are traveling business class from Malawi to New York and return ticket from New York to Nashville.

Last week, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nancy Tembo said in addition to her ministry, ministries of education, health and natural resources would be at the general assembly.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the OPC for approval of the double rate and the OPC approved.

The paper took up the issue with OPC which said the originator of the request, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was better placed to explain for its request for the OPC to approve the enhanced rate.

Malawi News asked the ministry for the reasons behind the doubling amid the many crises the country is facing.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson John Kabaghe justified the doubling of the allowances, citing the high cost of living in the US.

“In preparation for the participation by the Malawi delegation at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the ministry carried out an evaluation of costs of accommodation during the period of visit.

“It was established that hotel rates would double and triple in some instances due to factors such as the war in Ukraine, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and very high demand.

“It was on this basis that the ministry made a recommendation for special consideration to the Office of the President and Cabinet,” Kabaghe said.

On whether this was in the best interest of austerity measures which the President announced in June, he said: “As regards appreciating the government’s austerity measures, it will be recalled that the Malawi delegation to Unga was reduced significantly.”

Malawi News understands that during UNGA, accommodation in New York goes up because of the high demand.

For example, in 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote OPC asking for an approval for a one-and-half rate for the allowances, citing expensive accommodation in New York.

The then Principal Secretary Isaac Munlo wrote the Chief Secretary requesting for payment of enhanced rate for the delegation to the 73rd Session of the Unga.

“As you are aware, Sir, that His Excellency the President will attend the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly scheduled to take place from 18th September to 5th October, 2018, in New York, United States of America.

“Since accommodation in New York during the General Assembly is expensive, I have the honour to request that His Excellency the President’s delegation to New York, be paid their external travel allowance at one and half the normal rate.”

But the doubling of the rate seems to be the first ever.

A senior public servant, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government has not doubled the rate in recent years.

“I cannot remember the last time we had a double rate. May be during the Bakili Muluzi regime,” the officer said.

Economist and Director of Centre for Research and Consultancy Milwad Tobias said in the first place, Chakwera should not have even travelled because of the current economic situation in the country.

“The leadership has lost sensitivity. In the crisis the nation is in, no serious leader worth the title leader would have the luxury of travelling outside.

“The same government that banned lakeshore conferences to cut on expenditure is the same government that has doubled allowances for a trip that otherwise would not have even be undertaken and the Ambassador to the UN would have represented Malawi,” Tobias said.

Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) Executive Director John Kapito slammed the double allowance and the mere going to the UNGA.

“It is unbelievable that at a time when this economy is going through serious challenges of forex and other issues, the President would even find it necessary to attend UNGA.

“It is very shocking. Malawians are on long queues looking for fuel, looking for forex just to do small businesses. There are queues looking for maize and that doesn’t register anything in the President. What exactly is the President achieving by going to UNGA, an annual gathering that offers nothing to the poor?

“How many times has Malawi attended UNGA and what have we benefited from such gatherings? Is this the time the President would wish to waste the little forex that we have? This a pathetic,” Kapito said.

But Ministry of Foreign Affairs insisted that this year’s UNGA is a must attend for Chakwera where, among others, he will speak on behalf of the Least Developed Countries.

Tembo justified the President’s attendance last week. Among others, Chakwera is to sign the $350 million compact with the Millenium Challenge Corporation.

This year’s UNGA is under the theme: “A Watershed Moment: Transformative Solutions to Interlocking Challenges”.

Despite numerous calls not to attend UNGA amid Malawi’s deep economic crisis, Chakwera had no remorse but to proceed with the trip.

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