Do UN General Assembly trips give a ROI?

President Mutharika and his delegation have arrived in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly. As is normally the case, there have been questions about the size of his delegation and the cost to taxpayers. A number of 19 has been making the rounds as the number in the president’s entourage. However, from what I have read, I don’t think government has adequately addressed the matter of cost.

This is not the first time the electorate has demanded transparency on the make up or the figures. And will most definitely not be the last time.

In 2015, it was reported that Malawi’s delegation totaled 121 people but government was quick to say that only 15 to 20 were paid for by treasury. The foreign ministry said that the other 100 were paid for by international and other organisations. The estimated cost of flying out and accommodating those 20 was close to K100m (just over US$150,000).

What had incensed the citizenry was that at the time Malawi reeling under a poor maize harvest. The president had only days earlier appealed for food aid for 2.8 million hunger-threatened Malawians. Was this a wise use of resources considering the circumstances?

In 2012, the administration of Joyce Banda was accused of spending over one million dollars (K308m) on a similar trip. Her 40-strong entourage included loyalists from her political party and traditional chiefs.

Moses Kunkuyu, then information minister, defended the size and composition of the entourage. He said the UN General Assembly would ‘draw players from various sectors across the globe’ in one place. This would allow the president to lobby for assistance from development partners. The delegates would also participate in numerous back-to-back meetings and interactions which would otherwise have meant numerous, individual trips to different parts of the world.

But what actually comes out of these ‘meetings and interactions’?

Better Questions

As a nation, perhaps our interest has to go beyond entourage size and cost. They are not bad questions. They are probably just not the biggest bananas in the box.

What has Malawi benefited from these trips? Indeed, what benefit does Malawi get from the president attending the UN General Assembly year in, year out?

What value do the members of the president’s delegation add to these meetings or events? Are these people capable of selling Malawi and closing deals? If they can’t close deals, do they follow them up? Just recently a Malawi trade delegation to the UK was offering tax breaks to die for to potential investors. We wait to hear if that bait will work.

I believe that we need to be given facts and figures on what came to fruition as a result of the various meetings held last year and the years before that. What trade deals have we closed. How many jobs were created. How has an intervention or an investment positively or negatively affected our economy.

Do these sojourns to the UN General Assembly benefit people like these?
Do these sojourns to the UN General Assembly benefit people like these?

Show us the money!

In marketing, it is not unheard of for the marketing team to be up in arms with the finance department when it comes time for budgets. Marketing will usually ask for a lot of money to fund their advertising and promotion activities. Finance usually want evidence that last years investment brought about a healthy return in terms of revenue. If the marketing team have nothing to show then they really shouldn’t expect much from the kitty. Unless of course they can bend someone’s arm, someone high up the ladder, and plead for a second chance. Good luck if they can do that for two years in a row before their strategy gets questioned and a few heads roll.

Presidential trips to New York will always need money, and a lot of it too. The Big Apple is not the cheapest of cities. But that money spent should be worth it. The benefits should be clear. Figures should be there to prove it!