Joyce Banda drops bling for basics

2012-06-06 14:55

Blantyre - Malawi's new leader, Africa's latest woman president, does things differently. Joyce Banda is toning down the bling and returning to basics in one of the world's poorest countries.

Banda has announced the sale or lease of a $13.3m presidential jet controversially bought by her predecessor three years ago as well as 60 limousines ferrying cabinet ministers and top government officials.

These steps are meant to heal breaches with international donors who pulled the plug on vital aid to the southern African nation, citing poor economic policies and governance under late president Bingu wa Mutharika.

"There is urgent need in our country to change the way we do things," the 62-year-old Banda - who was vice president from 2009 until she became president on 07 April - told parliament.

Since taking over after Mutharika's death from a heart attack in April, she has launched a national austerity drive which seeks to "cut back on government expenditure through a number of on-going measures".

Africa's second woman president after Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Banda has also signalled a desire to reform her country's ailing farm-based economy.

Part of the cost-cutting schemes is getting rid of the luxury vehicles and plane, symbols of power and status in this poor nation where nearly 40% of the 13 million people scrape by on less than a dollar a day.

"My government has set up a cabinet committee to determine what to do with the presidential jet: whether to sell it or lease it out," Banda told parliament last month.

Strategic decisions

"I can as well use private airlines. I am already used to hitch-hiking," she told a news conference later.

Commentators like Mutharika critic Macdonald Sembereka, an Anglican priest, has welcomed this as a "move in the right direction".

"The president had to make some strategic decisions because the country was at the crossroads," he told AFP.

Mutharika had defended the purchase of the jet, famously saying: "It's our own jet and it's cheap to run it."

But experts estimate maintenance costs for the aircraft reached $338 000 annually.

When Malawi bought the plane, its former colonial power and main bilateral donor Britain started slashing funds.

By 2011, after Malawian authorities violently suppressed popular demonstrations, London cut a fifth of its annual aid.

Other donors, including the International Monetary Fund and the United States, also put on hold funds that subsidised 40% of the state budget.

With a raft of problems including foreign exchange and fuel shortages, an energy crisis and high unemployment, Banda says her country had been "living beyond its means ... where government has been spending more than its revenues".

New loans

Her reforms have seen foreign ties re-established. British Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell visited the country for talks last week after his department pledged $47m, and the IMF hoped to recommend new loans after a mission earlier in May.

Malawi's central bank last month devalued its national currency the kwacha by a third, giving in to a key International Monetary Fund (IMF) demand which Mutharika had rejected.

Also on the agenda is slashing the "presidential motorcade to sizeable necessity", the new president said.

Villagers used to rush to the road sides to watch past presidents driving by in the contingent of over 30 four-wheel drive Hummers, Toyota Land Cruisers, Land Rovers and Mercedes-Benzes.

Such opulence was in bad taste and hopefully now a thing of the past, said Sembereka.

"No single person or clique should monopolise comfort at the expense of the entire populace. Malawi is bigger than one individual and national comfort must not be monopolised."

  • John - 2012-06-06 15:26

    Make her President of SA!

      omonaija - 2012-06-06 19:21

      Mrs Banda ,I commend your actions but i question the reason behind your move.The article states that you did all this to appease the donors.If you are going to cut down on the bling ,you should do it because it is the right thing to do not because you want to please the people who will give you freebies. I am sick and tired of African countries depending on western Aid.This aid does not nothing for Africa but promotes corruption and laziness amongst Government officials who embezzle such funds. Why can't we Africans work hard and build our nations ourselves instead of depending on handouts and loans.Africans wake up ,we do not need all these western AID.Anyone who is well read knows that the IMF and World bank are economic assassins.These two organizations along with the CIA & MI5 have held and are continuing to hold many African countries to ransom economically.They dictate all these policies and projects that keep African countries in debt.They also conive with corrupt Africans leaders to embezzle these funds and deposit it in offshore accounts.It is not called the New World Order for no reason. Mrs banda,i will be watching your every move and i hope this not just a fluke to deceive Africans in to believeing that you are different from the rest.That being said,i wish you the best of luck to and more grease to your elbows.

  • zaatheist - 2012-06-06 15:42

    What a pity we do not have anyone of that calibre in the ANC. What a great country we would have.

      mbonyathi - 2012-06-06 17:02

      Thuli can be our fore runner

  • swavka - 2012-06-06 15:52

    Now there is a woman with guts. It takes a lot to go back to basics and get rid of the bling, the overspend, the waste. You go Lady!

  • Vernon - 2012-06-06 15:56

    The first and only leader in africa that i could truly respect.There are many leaders around the world that could learn from this.

  • mary.kircher - 2012-06-06 16:10

    we need a few Joyce Banda's here !

      Alf - 2012-06-06 20:08

      What you mean " a few"? We need a whole cabinet of them to pull SA back from the slope to total collapse!

  • Alan - 2012-06-06 16:27

    (Alan2) Well done, Joyce Banda. However, even with a small proportion of SA's population providing most of the taxes, the ANC still feel the compulsion to rob the public kitty - and thereby the poor - to make themselves look good to the masses. When you have dignity and self-esteem you do not need to rely on bling to boost your image. Obviously, the ANC do....

  • joyce.bandakhanye - 2012-06-06 16:53

    Well done Joyce Banda Mulungu akudalitse ndiponso akutsogolere men

  • Vic - 2012-06-06 17:02

    Please take note Zuma! The only African Leader who puts her people before greed. Gee, what a difference she could make to South Africa!

  • AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-06-06 17:05

    It has been an amazing start to her presidency. Great example to many Presidents !!

  • arne.verhoef - 2012-06-06 20:02

    Tannie, I love you! If I had one wish, it would be that not only africa, but every country in this world has a president like you!

  • mackson.chirwa - 2012-06-07 00:11

    Thanks 4 having the wise woman president in malawi and above all is the president thoughts among her own people suffering on the hands of greed goverment officials and their late president.MAMA JOICE BANDA,we salute u for your decisive decisions on putting people of Malawi first,to eradicate poverty in poor rural areas.She is just afantastic woman to be the president of Malawi.BRAVOO!!!.JOICE BANDA,from CHIRWA MACKSON

  • spyaffe - 2012-06-30 17:50

    and here in South Africa our president wants to get a R2bn jet. Our president does not actually care for his people at all. look how he even does his speeches. Never looks up and is always reading it from a piece of paper. He can not speak from the heart.

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