No to extravagance, JB flies commercial, saves K13m

Malawi President Joyce Banda broke ranks with costly traditions of her predecessor and travelled by scheduled commercial airliners Thursday to Maputo for the 32nd Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Heads of State and Government Summit and on return to Lilongwe on Sunday.

Banda told reporters at the New State House in Lilongwe on Sunday that she decided to abandon the luxurious Presidential Jet in preference for the commercial flights as a cost-cutting measure.

“I leant that if I were to fly the luxurious jet to Maputo, it could cost the taxpayer about K16 million instead of K3 million if I were to ‘hitchhike’. I wanted to set an example that in the difficult economic times that we are in, we can forego some of the luxuries. I know, when we correct our economic situation, we will be able to fly our own jet; it may be another President after me but I am sure we will,” the President said.

President Banda on arrival from Maputo after alighting from a commercial plane

Presidential Press Aide, Tusekele Mwanyongo, said in a telephone interview from Lilongwe on Monday the President has set the tone, which will drive her administration into the future where austerity begins at the State House as she said in her address to Parliament recently.

“Her Excellency was not merely sloganeering but avowed to lift the country out of its economic malaise inflicted by her predecessor who was renowned for extravagance. Travel by a commercial airliner as she has done will have saved the country an equivalent of a health clinic that would be attended by thousands of people whose access to health services is hampered by distance and communication from trained personnel,” said Mwanyongo.

The President told reporters at the news conference that she would not “melt” for using commercial airlines. She said consultants had been identified to look at ways of disposing of the Presidential Jet whose pilots have to be flown in from Holland every time the President travels abroad.

“Personally, I don’t want to fly that jet anymore,” the President emphasized.

But the near-universal approval for President Banda’s policies has not escaped criticism that she travels too much.

Banda’s Press Aide, however, said it is a fact that the country had entered the obnoxious club of pariah states in which the prize was to be isolated and denied participation in the international community and access to aid.

“Malawi needs the support of the donor community for some 40 percent contribution to its national budget. Except for a trickle of humanitarian aid, the country was collapsing on its weight when donors, unimpressed with economic and political governance, froze aid. The thaw in relations with donors has given the country a fighting chance to get development back on track under the impressive performance of the new President,” Mwanyongo said, adding between 2004 and April 2012 when the former President died, Malawi had ground to a halt economically, politically and socially.

He recalled that export commodities including tobacco fetched low prices, food prices were on the rise, and capital fled, leaving the country to sustain itself on ambiguous economic plans under the unheard of “zero deficit budget” that seemed to aggravate the situation further.

“On the political front, it was President Banda herself as vice president who became the poster-child of resistance against dictatorship from her own President. She was dismissed from the Democratic Progressive Party but the law was firm against forcing her out of the office of the vice president.

“Unlike her predecessor, President Banda travels for a purpose. In all her endevours, getting Malawi out of its self-imposed isolation has been the priority. President Banda’s reforms are not merely limited to the economy, political or social but a transformation beyond simply change of leadership, a clear vision and a shared destiny where every citizen has opportunity to improve their life for the better,” explained Mwanyongo.

It starts with gestures like those taken by President Banda who nobody can fault except on the flimsy grounds that she is doing what they would have liked to do but had no guts, willpower or stamina to stand up for what the people want, he concludes.

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