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George Chaponda’s ministry invades water boards

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Against the spirit of public sector reforms for ministries to avoid sucking parastatals, George Chaponda’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has milked the country’s waterboards of money to fund his ministry officials’ travel to a water congress in Brisbane, Australia.

While the exact sums the waterboards have spent are not stated in the correspondences exchanged on the matter, Chaponda’s personal assistant alone has been funded “to the tune of over K6 million”.

However, the pressure from the ministry has raised some discomfort among the ranks in the water utilities, with some officials complaining that the development is stretching their budgets.

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In one such case, a senior ranking official of one water utility has bluntly refused to allow his organisation to contribute towards the funding for the ministry’s Director of Water Supply and Sanitation to travel to the congress.

He questions why the ministry cannot handle the expense itself.

“I am unable to understand why the ministry would not be in a position to fund its delegate. I therefore wish to advise that [the Board] will be unable to fund this extra request,” reads the official’s email.

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The email was a response to a communication from Alfonso Chikuni, CEO for Lilongwe Water Board who, apparently, is president of the association of the water boards.

In his email of October 5 2016, Chikuni says the ministry requested the waterboards to fund the ministry’s Director of Water and Sanitation for the Brisbane Congress which ran from October 9 to 13.

“It is a very short notice…. The cost will be shared by the 5 waterboards but it can be pre-financed by any one water board for now. Please talk amongst yourselves and make a determination ASAP. Keep the Director informed and even consulted,” reads Chikuni’s memo.

It is this instruction that has drawn the other senior ranking official’s ire. His email in reaction says the waterboards have also shelled out money for Chaponda’s personal assistant, alongside other ministry officials.

The reaction of October 5 2016 reads: “This is unfortunate Mr President to have such last minute requests. More especially when you consider this against the background that we received communication barring the Boards’ chairpersons from proceeding on the trip on account of ‘bloated delegation’ which was expensive.

“Only yesterday, we were also asked to consider funding the trip of the Hon. Minister’s PA. This, we are also having to accommodate, in spite of being outside our budget, to the tune of over K6 million.”

Ahead of the congress, Principal Secretary in the ministry Erica Maganga issued a memo instructing the waterboards that only CEOs and not Boards’ chairpersons would attend the meeting. She did not give reasons.

Maganga’s order shot down a proposal by some boards to have their chaipersons travel with the CEOs to the conference.

One of those affected chairpersons, John Kapito, for Southern Region Water Board (SRWB), suggested he had no qualms in being left out of the trip.

But he bemoaned the tendency by parent ministries to interfere with operations of parastatals, which he said goes against the principles of public sector reforms being championed by Vice President Saulos Chilima.

“There is still a lot of interference from the parent ministry on how the boards should operate. The parent ministry continues to treat parastatals especially water boards as departments of the ministry….

“It is indeed depressing and disappointing that after all the public reforms, parent ministries continue to abuse resources, where they believe they can use parastatal funds without any approvals by the Boards and Government,” said the outspoken Kapito, who is also Executive Director of Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama).

He added: “We continue to witness huge reversals on the progress made so far on public sector reforms by parent ministries who seem not to appreciate the separation of powers between the ministries and the parastatals.”

He said budgets of the parastatals do not include travel for ministry officials as the ministries have their own budget allocation for travel.

Kapito said he was aware of four officials from the parent ministry that have attended the congress. They are Minister Chaponda, secretary for the ministry, director in the ministry and Chaponda’s personal assistant.

On the importance of the congress and who should have attended it, Kapito said:

“These are water meetings mostly attended by those in the production and distribution of water around the world and it’s generally people meeting to share experiences and best practices on how they can serve their communities better with clean but affordable water.”

Chaponda could not be reached on his mobile phone on several attempts on Friday.

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