Britain pledges $550 mln in aid for Malawi
By Mabvuto Banda
LILONGWE (Reuters) - Britain has pledged 280 million pounds in aid to Malawi over four years and praised the impoverished southern African country for tackling corruption.
Hilary Benn, Britain's international development minister, pledged the funds at a news conference in Malawi late on Tuesday, applauding the country's economic management and efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.
"As Britain we congratulate Malawi for attaining debt relief, for its incredible achievements in having over 80,000 people on HIV treatment within a short period of time and for good economic management," Benn said.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to cancel most of Malawi's external debt of about $2.97 billion in September after it completed economic reforms, under a programme aimed at easing debt burdens that stifle economic progress and poverty reduction.
Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika has made the fight against graft a top priority since he won power in 2004, winning praise from international donors and lenders but alienating him from the political class.
Benn congratulated Malawi for cracking down on corruption after previous leaders squandered aid, and urged wa Mutharika to elect a new chief for its powerful anti-corruption bureau after the last boss was sacked amid a political row.
"The UK is committed to helping the country's...fight against corruption," said Benn, whose government provides most of the funding for wa Mutharika's anti-graft squad.
Wa Mutharika's government is probing former president Bakili Muluzi for allegedly diverting over US$50 million from donors during his administration, in a row that has at times edged the country close to political deadlock.
Britain is Malawi's biggest bilateral donor and in the last five years has contributed over 312 million pounds in development aid.
Most of Malawi's 12 million people live below the poverty line and survive on subsistence agriculture. The country has been hit by droughts and food shortages in recent years, which have been exacerbated by a rampant HIV/AIDS pandemic.