By Mabvuto Banda
LILONGWE (Reuters) - Malawi plans to use the $15 million it gained from selling its presidential jet to feed the more than 1 million people suffering chronic food shortages, the Treasury said on Thursday.
Malawi angered Western donors, whose aid typically accounted for about 40 percent of the budget, when the government of late President Bingu wan Mutharika bought the 14-passenger Dassault Falcon 900EX aircraft in 2009.
President Joyce Banda, who took over after Mutharika died of a heart attack in April 2012, made selling the plane a priority as she sought to repair the damage left by the previous president, who picked costly fights with donors that left the economy a shambles.
"The $15 million we got from the sale of the presidential jet will be used to purchase maize locally to help feed the suffering masses and some of it will go towards legume production," Treasury spokesman Nations Msowoya said.
The $15 million represents over half the money allotted to buy maize until the end of March for the 1.46 million people listed as suffering from food shortages by the U.N.-affiliated Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee, Msowoya said.
Britain, Malawi's main bilateral donor, criticized the plane purchase and reduced its aid budget to Mutharika's government by 3 million pounds ($4.7 million) because if it.
However, Banda, who faces election next year, has won acclaim in the West for austerity measures and gestures to bolster the economy of the impoverished country.
Banda has cut her salary by 30 percent and pledged to sell off 35 Mercedes Benz cars used by her cabinet.
But moves such as a devaluation of the kwacha currency have stoked inflation, raised the price of food for rural poor and cut into her domestic support.
The sale of the plane to the Virgin Islands company Bohnox Enterprise was announced in May. The luxury jet cost Malawi some $300,000 a year in maintenance and insurance, a government official said.
(Reporting by Mabvuto Banda; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Alison Williams)