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8/3/04 - HOUSING THE PRESIDENT OF MALAWI - 2004-08-04


Bingu Wu Mutharika’s recent election victory marked Malawi’s first transition from one democratically elected president to another. During the campaign, Mr. Mutharika had pledged to improve Malawi’s finances. International assistance had been cut during the previous administration of President Bakili Muluzi because of charges of fiscal irresponsibility and corruption.

One of the first things the new president did was to move his official residence from the commercial city of Blantyre to Lilongwe, the country’s capital. But Malawi’s new chief executive was not satisfied with his accommodations. Apparently the new presidential residence was not large enough.

According to news reports, President Mutharika set his sights on a more spacious building, the New State House, which cost one-hundred-million dollars to build. The only problem is the lavish structure is already occupied by the one-hundred-ninety-three members of Malawi’s Parliament. Mr. Mutharika proposes to move the legislative body to the heavily damaged Manuzu Institute for Sports building.

Alfred Ntonga, editor in chief of the Malawi newspaper “The Nation,” says “The proposed move is likely to be costly”:

“What is not known is how the president intends to move to the new State House. We do not know if this is an immediate move, or if the repairs [to the Institute for Sports building] will be done gradually.”

Malawi is a country of eleven million people. An estimated eighty-percent of Malawi’s population lives on less than a dollar a day. The AIDS epidemic has taken a severe toll, and life expectancy in Malawi has fallen to thirty-eight years.

The press in Malawi has quoted Thomas Dougherty of the U.S. Embassy as saying the new Malawian government could qualify for financial support from the U.S. government's new Millennium Challenge Account if its shows more fiscal accountability. The program also requires that the government focus on addressing the dire needs of its people and work to enhance democratic institutions. The cost of providing a gigantic parliament-sized home for President Mutharika is something that Malawi can ill afford.

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