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2021 Sadc Summit funds haunt government

REGIONAL FUNCTION—Malawi hosted Sadc Summit last year

Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it is yet to settle bills while Treasury says it disbursed all funds

By Deogratias Mmana:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it cannot, for now, account for the funds used during the 41st Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Heads of State in August last year because the ministry is yet to settle some bills.

But the Treasury says it paid all the money amounting to K700 million and an extra budget of K323.3 million that it had allocated in the 2021-2022 national budget.

In August 2021, Minister of Information and Digitisation Gospel Kazako and former minister of Foreign Affairs Eisenhower Mkaka announced at a news conference that the government had allocated K4 billion for the summit.

They also announced that the government would buy 20 vehicles for use during the summit.

The government spent over K2 billion to buy the vehicles and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pledged to account for the funds during the just-ended financial year but that has remained a tall order.

Asked to explain why the ministry is failing to account for the funds despite promising to do so, the ministry’s spokesperson John Kabaghe said:

“When the Malawi Government hosted the 41st Southern Africa Development Community, in Lilongwe, in August 2021, it incurred various expenses, most of which it has paid off.

“However, it still has a few bills that it is yet to pay off. Government, therefore, intends to clear these remaining bills within this financial year. Once this is done, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will account for the money accordingly.”

When we asked the Treasury to explain why the Foreign Affairs Ministry should be haunted by the 2021 Sadc funds when it allocated some funds in the 2021-2022 national budget, its spokesperson Taurai Banda said: “In the 2021-22 budget, Treasury had set aside K700 million for hosting of Sadc Summit under Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The whole amount was disbursed.

“In addition, the Treasury provided additional resources amounting to K323.3 million relating to expenses for Sadc meetings in Mozambique. It is our expectation that payments were made according to the funding provided.”

Analysts have blamed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for playing hide and seek over the Sadc funds saying that the ministry is denting the image of the government because citizens do not have to beg for accountability.

Director of Centre for Research and Consultancy Milwad Tobias urged the government to normalise the practice of being accountable to the citizens.

Tobias said: “Like we have said before, citizens should not beg for accountability. Government should normalise the practice of being accountable to the owners of public resources-citizens. If the ministry is not forthcoming with information, it may be cause for suspicion that certain things are not right.

“The ministry is painting a bad picture of the government. The responsible minister must intervene and have the report released to the public.”

Director of Church and Society of the Blantyre synod of the Church of Central African Presbyterian (CCAP) Reverend Master Jumbe faulted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for throwing accountability to the dogs.

“Most of government institutions and departments have thrown accountability, transparency and rule of Law to the dogs to the extent that they are accountable to themselves.

“The unfortunate part is that our Opposition in parliament is weak because nobody raised this issue in the just ended sitting of parliament. As a result, impunity has reached unprecedented levels,” Jumbe said.

He urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to fulfil its promise that it would account for the funds.

In August last year, economics commentator Collen Kaluwa suspected that the purchase of the new vehicles could be a scheme for some government officials to loot public resources because the Sadc secretariat does provide funding for such summits.

“This could be another hoax to defraud Malawian resources because Sadc has a secretariat which does fund such meetings,” Kaluwa said in an interview.

In August 2021, former spokesperson for the ministry Rejoice Shumba said the ministry had engaged sub committees on August 27, 2021 to present their reconciled expenditure reports.

“Currently, the subcommittees are submitting reconciled invoices and expenditures to the Ministry for consolidation. Once the consolidation is completed, the Ministry will audit the report before submitting it to the National Audit Office (NAO) for final audit,” she said.

Shumba said once completed, the report would be made available to the public. She added that the ministry was also compiling names of organisations that supported the ministry during the Sadc summit.

On November 3, 2021, Malawi News asked the Secretary for Foreign Affairs Luckie Sikwese about the expenditure report.

He said: “The report will be released at the earliest opportunity when the minister returns from Scotland.”

Sikwese, who has since been removed from Foreign Affairs Ministry to the Vice President’s office, was referring to the climate change Conference of Parties 26 summit which took place from October 31 to November 12, 2021 in Scotland.

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