Impoverished Malawi sells presidential jet for $15 million

LILONGWE Wed May 22, 2013 10:40am BST

Former Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika is seen during the 18th African Union (AU) summit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa January 28, 2012. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

Former Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika is seen during the 18th African Union (AU) summit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa January 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Noor Khamis

LILONGWE (Reuters) - Malawi's luxury presidential jet, bought by late leader Bingu wa Mutharika, has been sold for $15 million to raise cash for the impoverished African country, a government official said on Wednesday.

Mutharika, who left the economy on the brink of collapse after he picked a fight with donors whose support accounted for almost 40 percent of the budget, bought the jet for $22 million in 2009. He said the plane matched his status and was cheaper than flying commercially.

Britain, Malawi's main bilateral donor, criticised the purchase and reduced its aid budget to Mutharika's government by 3 million pounds ($4.5 million) because if it.

President Joyce Banda, who took office in April last year after Mutharika died of a heart attack, made the sale of the jet a priority as she sought to repair the economic damage.

Chintu Phiri, principal secretary in the office of the President and Cabinet, told Reuters that Virgin Islands company Bohnox Enterprise Ltd had beaten three other bidders for the 14-passenger Dassault Falcon 900EX aircraft. "We have accepted their offer and we are waiting to hear from them," Phiri said.

The plane reportedly cost Malawi about $300,000 a year in maintenance and insurance.

Since taking office, Banda has also cut her salary by 30 percent, pledged to sell off 35 Mercedes Benz cars used by her cabinet and introduced a host of austerity measures.

Her early popularity has faded, however, due to an IMF-backed devaluation of the kwacha currency that caused inflation to spike to more than 35 percent a year.

($1 = 0.6604 British pounds)

(Reporting by Mabvuto Banda; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Pravin Char)

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