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Feast on K6.2bn Covid funds

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By Rebecca Chimjeka

While Malawians are waiting with bated breath for an account of how K6.2 billion allocated for Covid-19 response has been used, a leaked expenditure report has revealed that district council officials treated themselves to massive allowances on the funds.

Interestingly, the allowances alone make the largest share of the expenditure, amounting to 39 percent of the total K1.3 billion which Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) disbursed to district councils and Mzuzu and Kamuzu Central hospitals as at 31 January 2021.

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Yet, critical Covid-19 response areas such as procurement of personal protective equipment and related goods and services have only enjoyed 11 percent share each of the total expenditure, with fuel getting 9%.

The consolidated financial report by the National Local Government Finance Committee shows that councils had spent 79 percent of the total funding they were allocated as at January 31, 2021 Among the major culprit councils are Chitipa, Salima, Kasungu, Likoma and Machinga who have spent zero tambala on PPEs but had a field day on allowances.

This is while healthcare workers across the country have been complaining about critical shortage of PPEs for their work.

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According to the report, Chitipa has spent K22 million on risk, lunch and subsistence allowances for officials while Kasungu, Likoma, Machinga and Salima have spent  K8 million, K10 million, K30 million and K4 million respectively.

Machinga tops the list of the reckless as it spent nothing on PPEs, nothing on goods and services but K30 million on allowances, which is 50 percent of the K60 million allocated to it.

Among other big spenders on allowances are Blantyre which has spent K59 million out of K85 million allocated to it and Lilongwe District Council which has spent K42 million out of the K85 million it was allocated.

The revelations come on the background of an investigation by the Ombudsman on Covid-19 expenditures in the period between March and July 2020.

In the investigation, the Ombudsman found massive abuse and mismanagement of Covid funds at Dodma and other government agencies. The Ombudsman report questioned the allowance culture where 79.8 percent of the funds allocated to Dodma was spent on allowances of officials.

When contacted for his comment, Minister of Information Gospel Kazako said government is dealing with all the cases in totality.

“We are dealing with all abuses with sum total approach and finality. All the issues are being scrutinised,” he said, adding:

“This is a very momentous time for our nation when Malawians have declared participation and interest in how their resources are being used. We are motivated and encouraged as this will form part of the apparatus to retrieve this nation from thievery and blatant abuse of public resources.”

Kazako said the moment gives Malawi an opportunity to recalibrate the way the nation looks at and use public resources in government.

“We are on the side of the people in this. The people have the right to know. This is the very reason we became the first government ever to enact the Access to Information law. We did so because we believe in accountability and training,” he said.

But Centre for Social Accountability & Transparency Executive Director Willy Kambwandira said the expenditure report shows serious financial abuses and leakages in public finance management.

“We voiced our concerns right from the start that the response [to Covid-19] deliberately abandoned oversight institutions. That in itself was a recipe for spread of corruption and mismanagement of public funds.  We had highlighted to the Honourable Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Health Dr Mathews Ngwale the risks posed by lack of transparency and accountability in the response.

“It is however our expectation that all MDAs concerned will urgently act on the recommendations of the report,” he said.

Kambwandira has since urged President Lazarus Chakwera to urgently act on the reports and ensure that those involved are held accountable.

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