Malawi has instituted a travel ban on all administration officials, including President Joyce Banda. Information minister Brown Mpinganjira calls the move a cost-cutting measure.
Similarly, he says much of the government will be shut down for two weeks over the Christmas holiday.
“We are taking tough measures to rein in expenditure, [one being] the ban on all internal travel,” said Mpinganjira. “By banning internal travel for some time we are expecting to be making some significant savings. This ban affects everybody but of course there would be exceptions, when the president has to travel.”
Some observers have questioned whether President Banda’s scheduled travel to Europe this weekend could be affected by the new policy. Mpinganjira said Mrs. Banda’s travel was privately funded.
“She is being sponsored, [and] they are paying for her fares and upkeep. So, we are not really losing much in that respect,” Mpinganjira said. “Naturally as head of state, she has to do some local travel, but by and large it is a ban that is going to affect everybody, and we think it will realize some substantial savings.”
Donor funding accounts for about 40 percent of Malawi’s annual budget.
But Mpinganjira denied reports the ban was motivated by the decision by international development partners to withhold financial support from the government over corruption concerns.
“It is true that donors have indicated that they are delaying disbursement of their budget support, but even if that statement had not been made, we would still have needed to re-work our budget. We would still have to take tough measures to contain expenditure,” said Mpinganjira.
He said the travel bans were necessary because Malawi is recovering from wide scale embezzlement, which is linked to the September 13 shooting of budget director Paul Mphwiyo. Mphwiyo, who is recovering from a South African hospital, has promised to identify those behind the attack.
“We are just coming out of the crisis that [was] created by fraud in the civil service where a lot of money has been stolen. Up to now, we don’t know exactly how much,” said Mpinganjira. “As a result, it has left a big hole in the government’s coffers, and it is necessary for us to re-do our budget because we do not have the sort of resources that would satisfy the budget that we had at the beginning of the year.”
Mpinganjira acknowledged that the travel ban will affect some business sectors of the economy. He however noted that the government will review the measure in three months to evaluate the success of the ban, and to determine its next line of action.