A budget of K2 billion for the 2012/13 financial year to maintain six state residences and palaces is raising some eyebrows from political pundits, with some asking the question whether the cash-strapped government can afford this luxury or it was time to sell off some of the assets to reign in expenditure.
The budget has shot to K2 billion from K1,567 billion allocated last year.The state residences, including the famous Sanjika Palace in Blantyre and the New State House in Lilongwe, are
among the six properties used by the president and the vice president as official residences.
Gift Trapence, executive director of the Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), told The Sunday Times he would like to see the budget for state residences trimmed.
"One would want to check whether it is viable to have all these residences especially in the current state of our economy. I really think its high time we reviewed some
of the cutting measures in terms of different areas including state residences," Trapence said.
He feels the state should have residences for the president in the regions only "and the rest of the houses were disposed of in some way.
"As a nation, we probably have to be saying how do we put to use the other structures?" he said.
The K2 billion approval embedded a 10,274 per cent increase on funding for caring for grass, pegged at K120.51 million.
This sparked a heated debate in the just ended sitting of Parliament where parliamentarians pushed in vain for an explanation on the sanity of the allocation.
Nsanje Central MP Francis Kasaila told parliament he found the allocation to be extravagant for a government on the path for economic recovery.
Finance minister Ken Lipenga admitted that the funds were meant for the caring of lawn grounds at state residences throughout the country.
Malawi has a number of state residences, among them Sanjika Palace, Mudi House, Zomba State Residence, Chikoko Bay in Monkey Bay, Mzuzu State
Lodge, Mtunthama Lodge and the New State House in Lilongwe.
The K120 million allocated to tendering of grass lawns at state houses has been refered to as an allocation for "agriculture inputs," a terminology that also came up
in last year's budget.
Until last year, the vote to the presidency was never discussed in parliament.
Ironically, last year it was actually the (now) vice president Khumbo Kachali then Mzimba South MP who wondered why the New State House had been allocated funding for fertilizer
subsidy and construction of an irrigation system as if they carried out agricultural activities.
He was then told that the allocation was for families at state residences who carry out small farming operations.
Plans to sell the New State House or turn it into a profitable venture during the era of former president Bakili Muluzi fizzled out and instead it was used as both parliament
and home for the president.