A photo of President Peter Mutharika apparently waiting for a plane has gone viral. I have no way of ascertaining whether this photo is genuine or not. But, genuine or not, the photo has helped to start a very important debate in the country. Should the President of Malawi be standing in a line waiting for a plane?
I think the President of Malawi should not be using public planes. I even go further than that: A Malawi president must have his own plane.
Ever since former President Bingu wa Mutharika bought a plane for his office, there has been a divisive debate as to whether the country needs a plane or not. As is often the case with these issues, most of the debating revolves around politics. The opposition does not want it and the government side wants it. When government changes, people change sides too. In this article, I will skip over the politics and try to refute what I think are more serious arguments against buying the plane.
The problem with Malawians is that we often associate planes with luxury. And so when we hear about presidential planes, we already think about the president living large. We talk about medicine missing in our hospitals, potholes on our roads and lack of textbooks in our schools. We believe somehow that the presidential plane must not be bought until every soul has been fed and every pothole has been filled.
A presidential plane is not a luxury; it is a necessity”. It enhances the president’s ability to work effectively. It is a tool without which no chief executive can effectively execute his duties in the 21st Century. Yes, Malawi is poor. But we are also in the 21st century. And fate has called even the poor Malawian nation to operate within the 21st century with appropriate tools.
The equivalency being drawn between the provision of public services and a presidential plane is false. Even if we were to source the money equivalent to the cost of a plane and use it to buy medicine, books and fill out potholes, less than a year down the line, we will again find ourselves with no hospital medicine, no books, no good roads, and a president who still cannot work effectively because of bad transportation.
Yes, the president should not be moving around with large delegations. But that does not mean that the president should not travel. The president needs to move around the world and make relationships. This is crucial for the development of our country. And, in order to accomplish this, he needs to have a plane under his disposal.
Here are some of the things that happen while the president is in a line waiting for a commercial flight:
First, the president works less for the country. He has to leave his office early so he can connect planes on time. That means more time travelling and less time working. Just to visit Lusaka, the president will need to set aside 2 days. Whereas, with his own plane, the journey would take a mere 45 minutes.
Second, the president cannot even work while on a commercial flight. Imagine what the same critics would say if somebody sitting next to the president on the plane took a photo of a government document containing government secrets or personal information of some civil servants.
Third, in layovers, the president and his entourage have to stay in hotels. And because he is travelling in public, he needs more security. Over time, all this means that government loses more money than it would if the presidency had its own plane.
Some Malawians may well be comfortable advertising poverty to the world. But that does nothing to help us develop. We need to learn to make smart decisions.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :