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Donors, CSOs warn against budget abuse

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European Union (EU) Ambassador to Malawi, Marchel Gerrmann, and his United States of America counterpart, Virginia Palmer, have warned that the budget that the government unveiled yesterday will only achieve its purpose if discipline is enforced.

Some departments and agencies have exhausted their budgets before the end of their financial year before, straining others that stuck to their allocations.

For instance, some hospitals already exhausted their drug budgets five months before the end of the current fiscal year due to different reasons including that the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) was overcharging them.

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Reacting to Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe’s fiscal blueprint which he has pegged at about K1.3 trillion, both Gerrmann and Palmer said macro-economic stability and keeping inflation as low as possible will help in implementing the budget.

Palmer said she was pleased to hear Gondwe disclose that allocations to accountability institutions have been increased.

“For institutions like the Anti- Corruption Bureau, the National Audit Office, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and the Financial Intelligence Authority to do their job well and thoroughly, they need to be properly resourced. But it is not just about the budget; it is about using well the money that you have,” Palmer said.

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She added that Malawians can only benefit fully from the budget if proper policy changes are put in place.

“Power sector investment is also very important. The minister talked about this and I think the rest of Malawi’s economic development largely relies on this sector,” Palmer said.

On his part, Gerrmann said a tight and improved fiscal framework and spending within the budget are important aspects of implementation.

He described Gondwe’s fiscal plan as a prudent budget which can turn things around if there are no unnecessary loopholes in implementation.

Meanwhile, Executive Director of the Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn), Dalitso Kubalasa, and his Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) counterpart, George Jobe, have also warned that the budget may just be illusory if abuse of public funds is not curbed.

Kubalasa said the allocations to governance and accountability programmes must not be just on paper.

“We must walk the talk. Of course, there is a long way to go, but like the minister said, there should be concerted efforts towards what we need to do to develop the country,” Kubalasa said.

Jobe said the increase to areas like the health sector should be protected so that resources are not pilfered out of the system.

He recalled that the health sector is one of the worst affected when it comes to failure to stick to funding plans in line with respective allocations.

“What has been allocated should be given to the health sector as committed. Our wish is that there should be an allocation for monitoring of budget implementation so that the budget is not abused. Theft, leakages and all sorts of inefficiencies must be checked,” Jobe said.

The current National Budget which was initially pegged at about K1.149 trillion was reduced during the mid-year review after the government failed to realise the projected amounts, particularly from grants.

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