Govt purchases expensive presidential vehicle despite food shortages
LILONGWE, 16 June (IRIN) - 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 ofPolicy
Interaction, said the government was sending the "wrong signals" to

"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.

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