Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) and Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) officials are yet to pay back or recover money they unprocedurally donated roughly two months after a report which Office of the Ombudsman issued faulted the two institutions for abusing Covid-19 resources.
In November last year, an investigation which the Ombudsman Martha Chizuma instituted into the use of funds by members of the Coordination Cluster of the Presidential Taskforce (CCPT), which former president Peter Mutharika set up, revealed gross abuse of resources
Officials from OPC and Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) constituted the Coordination Cluster of the Presidential Taskforce, which was tasked to implement the National Covid-19 Preparedness and Response Plan.
In the Ombudsman’s report, CCPT members were accused of using only 20.2 percent of the K322, 659,196 allocation they got on intended activities, with the rest of the money being used for settling telephone and allowance bills.
Chizuma’s office did not spare RBM, which was accused of disregarding its rules by making an “unjustified” donation of K6.2 billion to the Covid-19 fund through the account of Dodma.
However, close to two months after the report was released, OPC and RBM are yet to take requisite action, namely letting those found in the wrong pay back the abused money and recovering the “unjustified” donation, respectively.
Chizuma, this week, indicated that only Dodma had complied with all the directives the office made. The directives include that all officers that dubiously received Covid-19 funds in the name of daily subsistence allowance return the money.
“I can confirm that we have received formal communication from Dodma. Thus [we have received] the money we out-rightly identified to have been abused by specific public officers.
“It may not be a lot of money but it is the principle [honesty] behind it that matters. To me, it shows that we are making inroads [in addressing the issue of] impunity that has characterised our public service for too long,” Chizuma said.
A Dodma progress report addressed to the Ombudsman— Reference Number M3/01/57 and dated January 4 2021— indicates that it has so far complied with seven of the eight directives that the Ombudsman issued last year.
The report, which Commissioner for Disaster Management Affairs James Chiusiwa has signed, further indicates that Dodma has recovered K413, 000 from participants who were served lunch after they had already been paid daily subsistence allowances during a national coordination meeting held at Mponela in Dowa District from July 9 to 11 2020.
It also indicates that a Dodma officer who invited a friend over for a meal at Mount Soche Hotel in Blantyre has refunded K33, 000.
The report also shows that Dodma officer Luke Chikwiri, who allegedly bloated prices for groceries, appeared before a disciplinary committee on December 7 2020 and has since been served with a warning letter.
Another officer from Machinga District Health Office, who mismanaged K500, 000 meant for the purchase of cleaning materials, has paid the money through Dodma’s bank account.
Dodma officials have also vowed to publish a list of all donations the department has received through a press release slated for publication on January 30 2021 as ordered by the Ombudsman.
Treasury has also closed down the infamous Covid-19 relief and response account and all funds have been transferred to Dodma’s account.
Meanwhile, Chizuma has retaliated the need to carry out a comprehensive review of the allowance regime in the public service to curb cases of abuse of public funds.
Her latest position on the issue of allowances could be understandable because, in her report last year, she indicated that investigators “established that some people who were given daily subsistence allowances were eating in hotels on bills paid by the fund”, also noting that “some officers were getting
allowances for the days they never worked for”.
The probe also revealed that, in terms of fuel allowances, members outside the public service were pocketing K414.3 per kilometre, while the chairperson was carting home K50,000 as professional allowance, with members getting K45 000 and those at the secretariat making do with K30,000.
On top of that, the chairperson, members and secretariat staff were each drawing K10,000 meal allowance despite that money for accommodation was already provided for. The chairperson, investigators found, was claiming K40,000 for airtime while members were getting K20,000 and secretariat staff K15,000 for the same. The staff members were also getting K7,000 duty allowance.
Meanwhile, Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency Executive Director Willy Kambwandira, whose organisation worked with the Ombudsman on the investigation, has applauded the Ombudsman for taking bold steps to recover public funds.
Kambwandira has since asked public oversight institutions to be vigilant when utilising public resources.
“This is obviously some good news to Malawians. We applaud the Office of the Ombudsman for taking bold efforts to recover taxpayers’ funds that were dubiously received by some greedy individuals in the public service. The development should act as a warning to public servants who abuse public money.
“However, we demand that Dodma behaves in the most transparent manner. Dodma should furnish Malawians with evidence that, certainly, their hard-earned taxes have been recovered. We maintain our stand on the need for a special account, where funds recovered from corrupt deals should be deposited into and special projects be initiated using this fund. This is the only way to motivate Malawians to report corruption” Kambwandira said.
On December 4 2020, Chizuma ordered that all public officers that had dubiously received Covid-19 allowances pay back the money to Dodma account by December 20 2020.
The Ombudsman’s probe was launched after a public outcry on lack of transparency and accountability by public institutions and officials tasked to lead the fight against Covid-19.
This comes at a time President Lazarus Chakwera has said the country needs about K169.9 billion ($220 million) to ably combat Covid-19, which has claimed 285 lives in Malawi so far.