Opposition Members of Parliament on Monday took government to task to explain to the house and the nation some changes in the budget specifically the increased figures to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) which has been increased from K6,595,724,601 to K9,720,345,944 and forced the deferment of the revised budget for State Residences by K150 million ($198 939), but at the expense of a K435 million ($576 923) cut in its locally funded development budget.
In Mid-year Budget Review, MPs from opposition benches asked Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe to explain why the increase when OPC has receive huge adjustments than other votes at a time Malawians are feeling the pinch of an economy on its deathbed.
“When everyone expects that the office of the president must be one of the least offices demanding an increase considering the sufferings Malawians are subjected to due to cashgate (looting of public finances at Capital Hill) ,it is uncalled for, it dumbfounded I can go on and on to call it names, but it’s shame for the government to be here and tell us to increase the budget with over 3.1 billion kwacha to one person when Malawians are suffering, I for one I will not be part of this,” said Mzimba West member of parliament, Harry Mkandawire said.
“ I will make sure it is reduced not increased, I know that this government has also increased ministers fuel to 1500 litres per month, this is unacceptable when Malawians are suffering out there,” said Mkandawire.
In 2013, donors stopped direct budget support to Malawi after the exposure of looting of national coffers, dubbed Cashgate, by civil servants and businesspersons.
A British audit firm Baker Tilly hired by government to conduct a forensic financial expenditure check revealed that K24 billion (about $32.8million) was looted from government within six months between April and September 2013.
But a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) data analysis report released last year showed a deeper problem going back years after it discovered that at least K577 billion may have been stolen from government in the five years leading to December 2014.
Adding his voice to vote, Former vice-president Khumbo Kachali, who is MP for Mzimba South West (People’s Party-PP), described the planned banquet hall as irrelevant and asked the minister to justify that huge increment to the office of the president at a time every Malawian is suffering.
He said the funds should be channelled to other priority areas.
Gondwe justified the additional allocation to OPC, saying the increase was mainly due to the fact that there were funds from the European Union (EU).
He said: “We have about K582 million, which is to go to OPC for Democracy Consolidation Programme, Ministry of Agriculture [Irrigation and Water Development] on irrigation, Ministry of Education [Science and Technology] and tertiary education. It is not the whole lot which is to go to OPC.”
But the explanation didn’t please opposition side who demanded that the minister should produce to Parliament detailed information on how much OPC has used and how much is needed and justify the increase with objective material facts.
MPs argued that the State House vote needed to be re-worked to focus on priority areas.
After a heated debate on the votes which saw tension rising in the House, Gondwe accepted to defer the vote and bring to parliament the detailed information about the vote.
The other vote which has been deferred demanding well explanation from the government side is vote 050 of State residences revised from K5,414,254,201 to K5,010,599,320.
Opposition queried the minister why spending money constructing a banquet hall at State House while economy is ailing.
Despite Gondwe saying the banquet hall project has been put on hold, MPs noted there was indication of K110 million going to the building of a facility for partying – dubbed ‘Mapwevuwevu’ by Rumphi East MP Kamlepo Kalua.
“You are saying there is no allocation for State Residences banqueting hall construction to be specific, why is there an allocation of K110 million? What is that for? As parliamentarians, we are not going to allow such issues to go without a say and we cannot be compelled to pass such a budget,” queried Kalua.
MPs argued that it was wiser to suspend the construction of banquet hall, which to them said it’s a drinking place and channel the money to agriculture specifically Admarc to buy maize.
Another vote which has been deferred to a later date is vote 080 of National Assembly which is now at K8, 446, 180,993 from K8, 347,255,019.
Meanwhile, the house has passed three votes of Asset Declaration revised budget of K431,553,423 from K399, 750,00, National Audit Office revised budget of K1,495,275,320 from K1,357,522,810 and the Judiciary which has been revised from K6,331,325,700 to K5,663, 273,079 its Other Recurrent Transactions (ORT) budget has been reduced by K500 million.
Closing debate on the Mid-term Budget Review Statement, which he presented to the House on February 26, Gondwe assured the House that Admarc has been provided with enough resources to procure maize to all the markets.
“And government has provided additional resources to National Food Reserve Agency [NFRA] to purchase maize for distribution to vulnerable households,” explained Gondwe.
Gondwe announced the trimming of the national budget from K929 billion to K906 billion.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :