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Chiefs defraud subjects in food relief response

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Traditional leaders in Balaka are defrauding relief food aid which international charities are distributing in the district to vulnerable people that have been affected by the prevailing hunger crisis.

A visit by Malawi News to Balaka West in Traditional Authority Chanthunya’s area on Monday established that some chiefs are abusing the ratio card system by registering their children and relations to receive food which they in turn sell to starving people who should have received the rations for free.

One of the victims of the scam, Magret Davite, a widow and a mother of seven who we found at Kangankundi, said she is listed as a beneficiary of the aid being distributed in the area by Concern Universal and World Food Programme.

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However, she has been clustered with two other beneficiaries so that they use one ration card. This means they share the ration among the three of them.

“We received 25 kgs of millet from Concern Universal last month and shared 8 kgs each with my other two colleagues. The amount is not enough to sustain my family for a month,” said Davite.

We were meant to believe that the clustering is a generous effort to ensure that everyone affected shares a portion of the relief aid.

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But we learnt that this was actually a scheme by some traditional leaders in the area. They are clustering the beneficiaries so that they reserve some of the ration cards for their children and relations at the expense of the starving majority.

One of the traditional leaders in the area, Group Village Headman Phillip Mbewe expressed sadness that some chiefs are abusing the relief aid for their personal benefit, thereby condemning the poor and vulnerable people to starvation.

“What you have heard from the other villages is true. The situation is getting from bad to worse. The problem is our leadership at the top. There are so many bogus villages created here and this has thrown the relief aid exercise into disarray. And authorities seem not to be interested to investigate and root out these unscrupulous village chiefs,” said Mbewe.

The scheme has also included creation of bogus villages and beneficiaries that cannot be traced. In this plan, up to eight villages are seen on traditional leaders’ records when they actually do not exist.

Ahead of our visit, a heated confrontation ensued between angry villagers and Group Village Head Chinkwamba on Sunday over Chinkwamba’s registration of his children as beneficiaries and on suspicion that he had some extra ration cards which he was keeping.

Chinkhwamba’s daughter, Irene Chikapa, who also acts as regent to the chief, acknowledged flaws in the registration of the beneficiaries. But she blamed it on Concern Universal staff for mishandling it.

“We don’t have additional ration cards here. The confrontation on Sunday discovered that it was one ration card that went to a wrong person and we returned it to the rightful owner,” she said.

But asked about how many have been targeted in the chief’s house, Chikapa said:

“There are five beneficiaries in our family. My mum, my brother, my young sister, my young sister’s daughter and me.”

Malawi News understands that Concern Universal has since discovered the fraud and is recalling ration cards from some dubious beneficiaries.

But our efforts to talk to the charity proved futile.

However, Balaka District Commissioner Rodrick Mateauma has described the villagers as liars who are bent on spreading false rumours instead of formally complaining with his office.

According to the 2016/2017 Food Insecurity Response Plan, for the period between July 2016 to March 2017, Malawi faces a hazard-related food security and nutrition emergency.

This is largely because of the severe prolonged dry spell in most parts of the country during the 2015/2016 growing season.

The worst hit areas were in the Southern Region and parts of the Central Region.

The plan says up to 6.5 million people are in need of humanitarian while 975,000 children and women will be in need of nutrition assistance.

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