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Audit finds abuse of K3.8 billion Covid funds

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Lazarus Chakwera

By Rebecca Chimjeka & Mandy Pondani

Amid Covid-19 ravaging the country, taking lives of citizens and leaving thousands of people in anxiety and despair, it was a moment for some public officers to illegally line their pockets with part of the K17.27 billion which government had disbursed for the fight against the pandemic.

According to the details, expenditure of the money on allowances (subsistence, lunch, risk, duty and others) were highly abused by all the clusters set up for the fight.

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The forms of abuse included public officers overpaying themselves, applying false rates and exaggerating period of activity.

The Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 was set to coordinate Malawi’s response to the pandemic. But the taskforce itself has been found wanting in some respects.

In one such case, it failed in its oversight role to track the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) amounting to K1.5 billion by the Central Medical Stores Trust.

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These are some of the details contained in a National Audit Office’s ‘Report of the Investigative Auditing of Covid-19 Covering Disbursement of K17.29 billion’.

The report, dated 25 January 2022, was prepared by the Audit Consult for the National Audit Office.

In January 2021, President Lazarus Chakwera announced in a national address that government has committed K17.27 billion for the fight.

Now an investigation into how the money was spent has found that K3.8 billion was abused and mismanaged.

According to the report, clusters such as Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Local Councils and Civic Education are the main culprits in the scandal.

NAO spokesperson Rabson Kagwamminga said the report has already been submitted to the Minister of Finance in accordance with Section 184 of the constitution.

The investigations report shows that medical supplies, allowances without attendance sheets, and fuel missing purchase requisition were found.

“The major key findings is that K3,818,785.329 was abused, goods and services amounting to K3,536,106,020 was the largest amount spent by the Ministry of Education and among the money about K1,698,613, 99 used RFQ instead of open tenders,” reads part of the report

The report shows that the Ministry of Health mismanaged K1.5 billion which was paid to the Central Medical Trust fund to procure drugs and medical supplies for Covid-19 and the amount was yet to be liquidated at the time of the report.

The report says it believes that if they had used open tenders, they could have saved the money as part of value for money.

“Based on the two highly categorised findings action should be taken against those who have not acted in compliance with laws regulations and procedures, similarly those who committed financial crimes must be referred to law enforcement agencies for prosecution,” it reads in part.

However, Audit Consult admits that the report was not comprehensive on all other Covid disbursements.

“This report has only documented the disbursement of the Covid-19 tranche of K17.29 billion made on 26 January 2021. Therefore, our report is not a comprehensive report on all other Covid-19 disbursements, or expenditures, but document only those areas we have been engaged to cover and which came to our attention for purpose of the investigative audit of Covid-19 disbursement of K17.29 billion,” reads the report.

When called for comment on the findings regarding the education cluster, spokesperson for the Ministry of Education Chikondi Chimala refused to comment saying they have not yet received the report.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe said he had no immediate comment because he had not seen the report.

Among other corrective arrangement, the report recommends that those who took part in the malpractices which led to loss of funds should be made to pay back the money.

“The government should ensure that all malpractices that are criminal in nature are handed over to the law enforcement agencies for further attention and action, and administrative remedies should be applied in all applicable cases,” it says.

Government spokesperson Gospel Kazako however said the audit report is an indication that the government is being transparent and accountable.

“Certainly, the responsible offices are expected to take action and position against any humanly motivated flaws. They will be taken to book with a view to send a signal that the Tonse Alliance Administration doesn’t condone this and that it is not part of its DNA.

“The flaws have been exposed because there was no chance to hide and submit fake figures, as was the case in the past,” Kazako said.

The report comes after another K6.2 billion Covid report was released last year, which saw a number of public servants arrested on allegations that they abused part of the money.

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