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Assets declaration office concedes verification failures

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CHIUSIWA—We have 21 officers

Office of the Director of Public Officers Declarations (Odpod) has admitted that it faces challenges to verify assets declared by listed public officers (LPOs) due to problems such as inadequate staff and financial resources.

Odpod Director Michael Chiusiwa disclosed this at a media orientation meeting in Zomba City over the weekend.

Chiusiwa’s confession comes at a time Odpod has just gazetted a summary of declared assets for the first time since 2014, when the assets declaration law came into force.

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Among other things, the gazette indicates that President Lazarus Chakwera has two houses, three plots, seven motor vehicles, five bank accounts and one business interest.

On the other hand, Vice- President Saulos Chilima has two houses, 14 plots, 11 motor vehicles, two business interests and seven bank accounts, among others.

Chiusiwa said the directorate has 21 officers who are required to verify 46,000 documents collected from around 16, 000 listed public officers since the office’s establishment in 2014.

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He said, to come around the problem, the directorate resorts to randomly sample public officers, after which the identified officers’ assets are verified .

“To make matters worse, our law states that these documents must come as hard copies duly certified by commissioners of oaths. It is difficult for the 21 officers to be checking all these documents physically one by one before going out to verify assets in the field,” he said.

Chiusiwa also decried inadequate funding, especially of Other Recurrent Transactions, which cater for operations including the assets verification exercise.

At the workshop, it transpired that the verification exercise requires K100 million every year but the task is usually allocated K30 million.

Most of the time, the money set aside for the task ranges between K15 million to K20 million.

“We only have one office in Lilongwe but the assets are spread across the country. As such, we need resources to move around,” he said.

Following the publication of the assets in the gazette, Odpod came under criticism for not including details of the assets and balances in the accounts of the two leaders.

But Joyce Chitsulo, Chairperson of the Public Appointment Committee of Parliament, to which the directorate reports, has backed the directorate, saying the law does not require them to gazette details of the assets but come up with a summary.

“Everyone, including public officers, has a right to privacy. You also have to look at their security and that is why what is published in a gazette is just a summary. If you want details of the assets, including the account balances, you can write the directorate using the Access to Information Act giving reasons and you will get that,” she said.

Chitsulo, however, confirmed that the directorate lacks adequate manpower and financial resources to verify the assets as declared by the listed public officers but was quick to say the directorate is doing a good job with the little resources it has.

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