Anti-Corruption Bureau probes Nice boss
The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is investigating Ollen Mwalubunuju, Executive Director for the National Initiative Civic Education (Nice) Trust, on allegations of abuse of funds.
ACB Director General Martha Chizuma confirmed this to Malawi News in an interview Friday.
“Yes, I remember this matter; we are investigating it,” Chizuma said.
The Nice Trust boss was suspended last year for the alleged abuse of the European Union (EU) and Malawi Government funds in April last year.
According to a report we have, Mwalubunju obtained funds totalling K157, 400 from his office for an activity that he did not attend.
Between April 26 and 27, 2021 ACB organised a workshop in Salima on the awareness of National Anti-Corruption Strategy and officers from Nice Trust were invited to this workshop.
Mwalubunju instructed the Executive Assistant at his office to prepare an internal requisition and made a provision for him for accommodation for two nights (26th and 27th April, 2021) at Sigelege Beach Resort in Salima and fuel at K23,400 and allowances at K14,000 — amounting to a total K37,400.
“Two cheques were prepared from EU funds, one cheque amounting to K120,000 payable to Sigelege Hotel for accommodation for two nights and a cash cheque amounting to K37,400 for fuel and allowances.
“The Executive Director collected the accommodation cheque himself and the MK37,400 was cashed by an officer and the money was handed over to him,” reads part of the document.
However, around the same dates, Nice Trust, under government funding, organised a National Planning meeting in Salima which was held on April 28, 2021.
The account, titled ‘Abuse of EU and GOM funds by NICE Executive Director – Ollen Mwalubunju’, indicates that Mwalubunju only attended the event organised by Nice Trust despite collecting money from his office to attend the ACB National Anti-Corruption Strategy meeting.
“A budget was prepared for the planning meeting in which, among other provisions, Daily Subsistence Allowance [DSA) and transportation was provided for all participants. The Executive Director received K110,000 through a bank transfer; DSAs for own accommodation for two days (27th and 28th April, 2021) at K55,000 per day. The Executive Director also collected cash amounting to K16,500 for fuel for the same event.
“The Executive Director did not attend the ACB workshop on 27th or 28th April, 2021. He did not return the accommodation cheque. Instead, he used the same accommodation cheque to spend two nights at Sigelege Hotel and attended the National Planning meeting in which he was also paid the two nights Daily Subsistence Allowance. Furthermore, he did not refund the fuel and allowances amounting to K37,400,” it reads.
When contacted yesterday, Mwalubunju said he was not aware of what we were talking about.
“I do not know about it. Please get it from them [ACB]; otherwise, I do not know about that issue,” he said.
Rune Skinnebach, Ambassador for the European Union which is one of the major funders of the Nice Trust, said while the EU is not withholding any funding to Nice or suspended any activity due to this development, they are aware of the matter and that it was reported to relevant authorities.
“The EU has, however, been informed of these allegations of fraud, and confirm that they have been reported and are being handled by the appropriate Malawian institutions with competence in the matter, including the ACB.
“With the view to protect the operations of the competent investigative and judicial authorities, the EU has a strict policy of not commenting on fraud related investigations while ongoing,” he said in an email response.
Skinnebach said however that the EU has a zero-tolerance policy on embezzlement, misuse and mismanagement of EU funds.
“Therefore, in case of confirmed irregularities, this case shall follow the standard procedure of recovery of EU funds,” he said.
Nice Trust, considered in some quarters as a principal civic education organisation in Malawi, was established in 1999. It operated as a government project with bilateral support from the EU until 2010.
In 2012, it became a permanent public registered organisation.
During the anti-corruption strategy workshop in question, Nice Trust and the ACB reviewed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between them in order to enhance their partnership in the area of public awareness on corruption related issues.