Every year, government allocates significant sums of money to state residences, often justifying the allocations in the name of fixing the home of the President. So is the case in the budget this year where K1 billion will be used in manicuring grass and flowers
By Cathy Maulidi:
On Thursday, Parliament approved the K3.78 trillion National Budget, which was realigned and revised downwards by K84.64 billion from K3.87 trillion.
One of its allocations is K24 billion for state residences, a K5 billion increase from the 2022-23 national budget.
Already the increase has caused discomfort among some oversight authorities who find the explanations for the increase unconvincing.
Inside that K24 billion, government has allocated K1.1 billion for landscaping and K60 million for agricultural inputs.
And this manicuring of state residences lawns seems to be enjoying significant annual attention.
According to the budget documents, Program Performance Information for Presidency Infrastructure and Technical Services for the 2022-2023 budget, government “tidied” 300 hectares of state residences’ land last financial year.
It indicates that got state residences lawns “well-trimmed and shrubs well established and managed”.
Further, flower gardens around state residences were set and well managed while a number of plants and equipment were purchased.
So this financial year, K1.1 billion has been allocated in the budget this year for the same purpose.
Minister of Finance Sosten Gwengwe has justified the allocations saying state residences’ land must always be maintained to the required standards.
“It must be befitting to the first citizen,” he said.
According to Gwengwe, the K1.1 billion caters for land improvements at state residences and wages for those employed to manage lawns and flowers.
Though the House has approved K24 billion budget for state residences, there are questions as to whether it makes sense to spend that much on just flowers.
Member of Parliament for Thyolo Central, Ben Phiri, is of the view that the amount does not make any economic sense.
“K1.1 billion for land improvement? Does this make any economic sense?” He wondered.
Within the state residences budget, government also plans to renovate State House in Lilongwe and Sanjika Palace in Blantyre.
According to Gwengwe, the state houses are in poor shape.
He told Parliament that government plans to use K3 billion “to bring back the lost standards of the residences”.
“Sanjika Palace has pipes problem that require immediate plumbing services. Kamuzu Palace also needs rehabilitation. The lifts there are broken and require fixing,” he justified.
But Budget and Finance Committee Chairperson Gladys Ganda is unconvinced.
She said the adjustment is unjustified and government should give an explanation on what state residences has been doing with huge sums of money that it has been allocated previously.
“For the past three years we have allocated over K5 billion to renovate state residences and today we are hearing another allocation to renovate the same. Which state residences are these now?
“Are state residences renovated each and every year? Normally, renovations happen at least every five years. Have we accounted for what the last allocations did?” She asked.
In March 2021, President Lazarus Chakwera temporarily moved out of Kamuzu Palace, his official residence and office, and relocated to Mtunthama Residence in Area 3 within Lilongwe to pave way for maintenance works.
Ganda said the allocation is shocking and disappointing at the same time.
“We would appreciate if the Minister updated Parliament on what the allocated funding to state residences for the past 3 years has been used for, especially funding allocated for refurbishment of state residences,” Ganda said.
She added that, there is need for fiscal prudence to be applied across the board and not just few MDAs.
“State residences need to be exemplary in cost cutting measures; otherwise this is a budget that can easily be abused if not questioned,” she said.
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) National Coordinator Boniface Chibwana said with millions of Malawians reeling from the devastating impacts of Cyclone Freddy, government was supposed to walk the talk on austerity measures.
“As much as we really want to maintain our state residences, we should also keep in mind that we are in an economic crisis. Worse so now that we are dealing with the aftermath of Cyclone Freddy. So I agree with the observations of the budget committee,” Chibwana said.
According to the Draft Estimates of Expenditure on Recurrent and Capital Budget for the Financial Year 2023-2024, from the allocated K24 billion, K20 billion is for Other Recurrent Transactions (ORT) while the rest is developmental