MPs quiz Lipenga on State House allocation

Finance Minister Ken Lipenga was on Monday at pains to explain to fellow members of parliament of unexplained increase in budget allocation to vote on state residences.

The 2012/2013 budget debate has now entered committee of supply where allocations to various government ministries and departments are scrutinised vote by vote.

According to budget documents, state residences has been allocated K1.6 billion.

Lipenga: Nothing sinister

However, a guideline of everyday business to be discussed known as ‘Order Paper’ shows a figure of K1.8 billion as having been allocated to state residences, a development which prompted members to quiz the finance minister.

Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson on finance Joseph Njobvuyalema demanded an explanation for the upward adjustment.

Njobvuyalema asked why parliament approved K795 million to state residences last year and this time round, there is K907 million, an increase of K200 million.

“Why such a huge, huge increase? We are aware that commodity prices because of the devaluation have gone up but it cannot be up to K200 million.  This particular item is for State Functions and the Minister of Finance knows what happens at State Functions which we also know.  Not much has changed really,” Njvobvuyalema said.

The lawmaker also wanted to know the strength of State House, saying they have employed many people of late.

“ How may are there because this House has the mandate to determine the number of State Residences as well as personal staff which are charged to this particular vote. The Minister of Finance may want to assure this House that it’s a manageable team so that if it is not, in view of the austerity measures, it may be found necessary by this House to determine either to increase or reduce,” he said.

“What is paramount is we want our State President to live a very good life, a very good healthy life, well supported and everything manageable.  However, we have to live within our limits and that’s why the Minister of Finance may find it important to address this particular issue.”

Finance Minister said the rising budget vote is due to devaluation of the Kwacha and skyrocketing of prices.

“There is nothing sinister going on,” he assured.

Lipenga conceded that there were differences in the vote totals “in some cases” but said there were no differences both in the Order Paper and Output Based Book.

“Some of these documents had to be submitted well in advance because of certain deadlines that we had to meet in preparation of the budget and correction had to be made later and the correct version is the one that is on the Order Paper and not in the Output Based Book.  That is the explanation,” he said.

On the number of staff at State House, Lipenga responded: “I do not have the exact figure at the present time but I can make that available in due course.”

Nsanje Central MP Francis Kasaila (DPP) also added his voice to the calls saying parliament needed clear answers from Lipenga.

He asked the Finance Minister to explain “why there are no provisions for insurance of the assets at State Residences.”

Kasayira said: “–Insurance Expenses has been reduced by 100 per cent.  Are we saying that all those vehicles and assets at State Residences will not be insured the coming Financial Year?”

The Provision of K1, 842,789,740 on State Residences budget vote was approved.

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