Malawi’s Capital Hill plunder…K1.2 billion down the drain
Malawi’s Chief Secretary to the Government Hawa Ndilowe on Friday rebuffed the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) as the total amount of money pilfered from government from the public purse reported in the months of September and October alone has hit a record K1.2 billion.
The committee summoned Ndilowe in her position as the head of the civil service to explain the collapse of the government payment system and the rampant theft of government money.
Ndilowe did not show up at Parliament as earlier scheduled. She instead delegated her juniors, led by Principal Secretary for Finance at Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) Joster Njanji.
But the committee angrily rejected the delegation and sent it away. Parliament had initially scheduled a meeting with Ndilowe, who is OPC’s controlling officer, as part of the Auditor General’s report validation of audit reports for several government departments.
However, the committee this week approved a motion to change the agenda of the meeting to include the current crisis following the suspension of the payment system known as the Integrated Financial Management Payment System (IFMIS) and reports of looting at Capital Hill.
Ndilowe’s move angered the committee after it transpired that she failed to even write an official apology to Parliament on her failure to appear before the committee.
Committee member John Zingale described Ndilowe’s behaviour as unfortunate.
“The meeting could have discussed issues of paramount importance to the nation,” he said.
Another member, Lingson Belekanyama, warned that Ndilowe’s actions could set a bad precedence to other controlling officers as she was head of the civil service. He said Parliament’s oversight role must not be circumvented.
“The meeting was scheduled a long time ago on 14th November. Our meeting could have taken one or two hours, not the whole day, so it’s unacceptable that she went ahead to arrange other meetings at this time,” he said.
Thyolo Thava MP Lifred Nawena said this was not the first time Ndilowe had failed to respond to the committee’s summons.
“Previously, the chief secretaries were appearing before the committee but the incumbent Chief Secretary is avoiding this committee,” he observed, adding:
“Last time she sent her deputy, saying she was attending a presidential function and today she says she has more pressing issues. Out of respect to her office we will meet her at her convenient time but we will not discuss the matter today.”
Vice Chairperson of the Committee Davison Nyadani, who has been chairing the current committee meetings, also lamented the Chief Secretary’s move.
“We need a new date for the meeting but as a committee we will not discuss any of the issues on the agenda today. But this will have implications. For example, already there will be financial implications as today (Friday) was supposed to be the last day of our meetings hence any rescheduled meeting will have to be funded by OPC.”
But Njanji, who indicated that OPC will be willing to fund the meeting, said his boss failed to attend the meeting because she was holding other meetings he did not specify.
He said OPC failed to write PAC an official apology as the invitation letter for the meeting was only received on Wednesday, a suggestion the lawmakers disputed.
Apart from Ndilowe, PAC this week agreed to also summon the Secretary to the Treasury Radson Mwadiwa, Accountant General David Kandoje and Auditor General Stephenson Kamphasa to explain circumstances surrounding the current crisis.
Meanwhile, the current plunder of public coffers has accumulated to over K1.2 billion. On Thursday, it was reported that police in Lilongwe arrested an Accounts Assistant in the office of the Accountant General and confiscated cash amounting to K7.8 million.
There was also an arrest of a Principal Accountant on allegations that he tried to exit Capital Hill gates with K3 million. A further US $25,400 was later found at his house.
The Anti Corruption Bureau also arrested two officers in connection with a contract involving K20 million as payment for goods and services that were not supplied.
The bureau said the suspect also tampered with financial information from IFMIS amounting to K73,355,924.27.
On September 16, eight police officers and two civilians were ordered to serve a 14-year jail term each for stealing a total of K55,478,152.82 public funds through over-requisitioning of salaries in the Malawi Police Service and underpaying taxes.
It was also reported in the media that about K500 million was lost during last year’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) due to theft of coupons and fertiliser among others.
Police spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo said on Thursday that the police arrested two more workers in the Accountant General’s office from whom cash amounting over K200,000 and accounting documents have been retrieved.
The Nation also reported on September 26, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), with the help of the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM), is probing how Treasury has paid out to various companies a sum of money estimated at K600 million.
At the current budget allocation disbursements, the K1.2 billion can fund one district hospital in the Southern Region for four months, serving a population of over 500,000 people.
One District Health Officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his hospital gets about K30 million in monthly allocations.
“We are just waiting for the conclusion of the investigations, but if it is true that the lost money being reported in the media on daily basis are from a tax payer, then this is a crisis. In hospitals we are failing to give our patients food, we do not have drugs and government seems not to be doing anything,” he said.
During a recent meeting with the Central Medical Stores Trust, DHOs gave long lists of supplies they have not had for months, with one listing 60 supplies the district’s health centres have not had for three months.
Human Rights activist Billy Mayaya said demonstrations were one way for people to register their anger on the alleged looting at Capital Hill.
“There is need for more proactive and vigilant citizens to come forward and expose these evil people masquerading as civil servants. In Kenya there was a successful campaign where ordinary citizens exposed such people,” he said.
Meanwhile Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) Executive Director John Kapito has asked Malawians to join what he called solidarity demonstration.
“The Consumers Association of Malawi is calling all Malawians to participate in a solidarity demonstration against corruption and theft by the Joyce Banda administration on the 10th of October 2013 in Lilongwe,” he said.
ACB, FIU and fiscal police are investigating the plunder currently being exposed almost on a daily basis at Capital Hill. – additional reporting by Theresa Chapulapula and Charles Mpaka