By Serah Makondetsa:
While majority Malawians reel from abject poverty and the country is stuck at the bottom rung of poverty indices, government refuses to implement austerity measures that would help fix the country’s ailing economy.
Government, for example, spends at least K3 billion after every three years to fund for the purchase of new Toyota Prado TX for principal secretaries (PS) in various ministries, Auditor General, Accountant General, Registrar General and Solicitor General among others.
According to findings by Malawi News, currently, government has 34 active PSs whose benefits, among others, include 500 litres of fuel a month and monthly salary of above K600,000.
But Auditor General, Accountant General, Registrar General and Solicitor General are on PS rank.
We established that, at Toyota Malawi, an automatic Toyota Prado TX is sold at K84 million and a manual vehicle goes at K78.5 million.
In this regard, it means government spends K2,983,000,000 if the fleet used is manual or K3,192,000,000 if the cars are automatic.
However, the figure comes against the background that the Democratic Progressive Party-led administration in September 2015 abolished second and third PS positions into chief directors as part of Public Service Reforms.
Government made the structural changes to bring sanity to the system and streamline positions to reduce the number of PSs from the then 96 to about 40 PSs.
Many other officials in parastatals and government’s ministries, departments and agencies are entitled to benefits almost the same as those of PSs.
Recently, there were reports that government purchased a Land Cruiser TX worth K89 million for Loans Higher Education Student Loans and Grants Board Executive Director Chris Chisoni amid tuition woes among students in various tertiary education institutions.
University of Malawi’s Chancellor College-based Economics expert Ben Kalua described the development as unnecessary spending for a dwindling economy like Malawi’s.
“In my long-term observation which comes from the 1990’s, governments like Malawi tend to spend a lot of money on vehicles and travel. These are hidden wage bills apart from buying the vehicles they are running costs.
“And the question is: Is such type of expenditure necessary and is it the right way of doing things? Government should come out clean, instead of giving them such extravagant expenditures, they should just adjust their salaries that they should earn more on salaries and, that way, they do not expect a lot more from government,” he said.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition Chairperson Timothy Mtambo said such spending is unethical saying it translates to lack of responsibility in accepting the reality on the ground.
“I would call it recklessness and failure to appreciate the reality on the ground, if you are unable to live within your means, then you are unethical. Whatever has been happening is unethical, we are a small economy, then, we must accept this fact and purchasing such expensive cows it is too much.
“Our economy cannot sustain such, that is why the citizens continue suffering while the few continue rising and that is what we have been fighting for. We are not saying our leaders should be treated like they are not leaders but we want them to be responsible. Three years is too short, I would say five years because these cars are properly serviced,” he said.
Opposition political parties Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM bemoaned the development alluding to the fact that there is lack of fiscal discipline in trying to fix the county’s economy.
MCP spokesperson Maurice Munthali said some of these expenditures are unrealistic.
“That is why our president is saying he is going to reduce civil servants and this is going to apply across the board to avoid spending unnecessarily like that. Such extravagant spending will be dealt with once we assume power come May 21,” he said.
UTM spokesperson Chidanti Malunga described the situation as unfortunate arguing that Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world.
“People have no food right now, we do not have school blocks and children are suffering, when you go to the hospitals, there is no medicine, a proper government should look at these small issues that affect people across the country and not looking at a few people that are living a luxurious life and reward them.
“Because, when you look at some of the appointments are government-affiliated and it comes as a reward. When we talk about fiscal discipline, this could be one of the things to look at,” he said.
Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe and government spokesperson Henry Mussa did not pick up calls for their comment.
United Nations Development Programme recently said inequality continues to rise in Malawi as evidenced by the ride in Gini coefficient from 0.339 to 0.461 between 2005and 2017.
UNDP also classified the country as a least developed, as nearly 70 percent of its 17.6 million people live on less than $1.90 a day, with poverty concentrated in rural areas, where 95 percent of the poor live.
Last week, MCP spokesperson on financial issues in Parliament, who is also Member of Parliament (MP) for Lilongwe Mpenu Nkhoma, Collins Kajawa critised government for swelling domestic and foreign debts, which are pegged at K3.5 trillion, a figure beyond the acceptable threshold.