Govt purchases expensive presidential vehicle despite food shortages

Plans to purchase a US $545,000 limousine for President Bingu wa Mutharika have sparked heated debate in Malawi, which faces yet another year of acute food shortages.

Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe told parliament on Wednesday that the Maybach 62, made by Mercedes-Benz, was necessary, as the president was without an official vehicle. The car used by former president Bakili Muluzi was involved in an accident last year, and the government intended to pay for the new vehicle in instalments.

The Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) said the purchase was "unnecessary and a waste of money", given ongoing food shortages in the country. Crop estimates indicate that Malawi's harvest could drop by around 25 percent this season, with the number of people in need of food aid climbing beyond last year's 1.3 million.

"It is unfortunate that government needs such an expensive vehicle, at a time when people in the country are facing food shortages. Sixty-five million Kwacha [$545,000] would buy 45,000 50 kg-bags of maize," MEJN national coordinator Collins Magalasi told IRIN.

Rafiq Hajat, Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Interaction, said the government was sending the "wrong signals" to donors.

"President Muthatika has told us that about 1.7 million people need food. The question is: 'Is it necessary to have such an expensive Maybach now?'" said Hajat.

"Donors [will] look at us and think we do not need the money because we can afford to buy luxury vehicles for the president," he remarked.

Information Minister Ken Lipenga, who was part of the presidential convoy when it was involved in the accident, said the government had already paid $180,000 of the cost of the Maybach.

The announcement came barely a week after the finance ministry presented a budget calling for government departments to be prudent in their expenditure.