National budget

Stadiums versus clinics

Malawi’s government wants to construct two stadiums for private football clubs. Critics argue the allocated $ 2.2 million should better be spent on health care or education.

The money for the arenas of the two Malawian teams, Nyasa Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers, is part of the 2019/20 national budget proposal worth $ 2.4 billion, which has been presented to parliament in September. President Peter Mutharika had earlier made the promise to use public funds for the construction – a statement that had angered many people.

“It is illogical, a lack of prioritisation and an outright abuse of public funds to finance projects for commercial entities while the country is experiencing a myriad of financial hardships,” said Timothy Mtambo, chairman of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC). “If Mutharika wants to fund the stadiums, let him or his party foot the bills.”

Mtambo says he is surprised that Mutharika’s administration is planning to build the stadiums while the hospitals in the country are “lacking essential drugs and personnel, and pupils are learning under trees without adequate materials.”

The president defended the decision saying that his administration was developing football in Malawi. “The question of why government is constructing stadiums for private clubs does not arise. My answer to this criticism is that we are developing football in this country. Besides, these stadiums will always be used and enjoyed by the public,” Mutharika argued.

According to Jappie Mhango, the minister of health, the government is well aware of the shortage of hospitals and drugs and working hard to better the situation.

Henry Kachaje, an economist, told The Nation newspaper that it was not in the government’s mandate to construct the stadiums. “The two clubs are privately owned, and it is unlikely that parliament can approve a budget that includes spending public money on the two private football clubs,” he argued.

The opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) has already hinted that it will not support the budget. “How can you build stadiums when patients are sleeping on the floor in the hospitals? How can you support such a project when our children have no classrooms and textbooks? That is not possible,” said MP Christopher Manja.

However, both Nyasa Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers welcomed the plans and called on parliament to approve the budget. In the proposal, $ 238 million are allocated to the Ministry of Education, and $ 139 million are foreseen for the health sector. Despite major financing, both sectors continue to face serious problems because most of the funds are not used for their intended purposes.

Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.

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