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Dodgy spending on mombera varsity

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  • Despite all the 6-year old fuss about Mombera University (now renamed M’mbelwa University), there is literally nothing to show for all the noise.
  • Yet over K1 billion was spent on the project in one year.

By Rebecca Chimjeka

The Mombera University project site in Mzimba District is a desolate place now, more or less, with no university walls as expected but a seven-room structure that was meant to be a warehouse, now an office for two guards, a crumbling arc on the entrance and a ring road inside.

But dead as the site is, the project is bleeding money from the public purse, with the most recent audit showing that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is failing to explain the more than K1 billion allegedly spent on the project through the Malawi Universities Development Programme (Mudp).

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A review of financial statements and expenditure for the year ending June 2020 by the National Audit revealed that the actual expenditure on Mombera University for the year was K1.3 billion.

This is in sharp contrast to the financial statements from the Ministry of Education showing that only K231 million was spent on the project in the year.

According to the audit report, the ministry cannot account for K1.12 billion.

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Treasury instructions (2004), Section 3.9 states that “Every controlling officer and the head of every agency of Government shall provide to the Secretary to the Treasury such relevant information, as specified by him, that will assist in the production of the economic, fiscal data, and other reporting required under the PFM [Public Finance Management] Act, the information shall be accurate and to be provided in a timely manner.”

This means what the Ministry of Education had earlier reported to the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) of Parliament that the Mombera project had blown about K230 million is in contradiction with that provision.

But in an interview on Thursday, Mudp coordinator Fanny Mthuzi insisted that the figures she has are different from those in the report of the Auditor General.

“My office has different figures and what the audit is saying are different things,” she said.

However, spokesperson for the National Audit Office, Rabson Kagwamminga, said what they have documented is “a true reflection of the audit that was professionally done.” 

Malawi News understands that while there is no real work Mudp is seen to be doing, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has been paying its staff and office rentals.

In the 2020/21 Financial Year (FY) for instance, the overall revised budget for the education sector was K395.9 billion.

The second largest recurrent share of the education sector amounting to 24 percent was allocated to Higher Education supporting departments such as Mudp.

Mudp was established to oversee the establishment of five new universities, in the actualisation of the dream of former president Bingu wa Mutharika.

To-date, there is only Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must) to show for all Mudp’s efforts.

Mombera University would have been its second achievement.

On March 15 2015, former president Peter Mutharika unveiled a plaque at the site to mark the beginning of the construction of the university.

Mutharika said then that his government was committed to ensure that many youths attain higher education in the country by constructing more universities, Mombera being one.

During its budget sitting that year, Parliament approved K100 million to finance the construction of the university.

By 2017, there was nothing on site. During the 2017-18 Mid-Year Budget Review, government parried away fears that the university project had become a white elephant.

In June 2018, government said a contractor was identified and was on site working on roads, hence the ring road.

Executive Director for Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) Benedicto Kondowe said there are fundamental concerns as to why government has continued to finance Mudp when it has so far failed to deliver on its mandate.

“One would have expected great progress to justify the existence of the office. The office has staff who have been using Malawian taxpayer’s money. Why is it that government is continuing to pay for the rentals and staff at the office?” Kondowe wondered.

Earlier, Minister of Education, Agnes NyaLonje, said whether someone was pocketing money on a project that stalled or not, it is up to institutions such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to investigate.

NyaLonje said the time the Tonse led administration was being ushered into power they had already found that there was no progress on the project.

“As we speak now, we are doing preparations behind the scenes. There is a lot of work happening. You may also wish to know that the Ministry of Finance floated bonds to generate resources. The resources will be used for the construction of several projects. In December [this month], I will also be going to a meeting outside the country where the major part will be to mobilise resources,” she said.

In August this year, Treasury issued a K20 billion 10-year bond as part of infrastructure development financing mechanism targeting 15 projects, which included the university.

At that time, the plan was that the university project would be financed by the Malawi government with no external assistance and was expected to have 10,000 people including staff and students.

Government spokesperson Gospel Kazako questioned the benchmarks used to come up with the score.

He said the government is committed to maintaining human rights standards in the country.

“It is difficult for us to comment because we are not privy to the benchmarks they used you to come up with that percentage. Otherwise, as a government we are seriously committed to maintaining human rights standards,” Kazako said.

Some of these CSOs are Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace Mzuzu Diocese, Malawi Human Rights and Resource Centre, Natural Resources Justice Network, Malawi Economic Justice Network and Act Alliance.

On the other hand, the HRDC has bemoaned the rise in cost of living, persistent drug and medical equipment shortages and worsening corruption levels as among the failures of the government.

HRDC also faults government on inadequate access to information and failure to bring to justice all those involved in politically motivated killings including that of police officer, Imedi Usuman.

“As we commemorate the International Human Rights Day, we call upon the government to embrace the tenets and spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and fully respect, protect and fulfil all human rights of all its citizens,” says HRDC in a statement, signed by the group’s chairperson, Gift Trapence.

It urges the government to ensure full compliance with the Constitution and take urgent and progressive measures to address the ongoing drug crisis in hospitals.

It also calls on the government to conclude all corruption cases and ensure that justice is applied to all those that are suspected of corruption, whether in opposition or government.

This year’s International Day of Human Rights was commemorated under the theme ‘A Call for Action against Socio-Economic Inequality in Malawi.

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