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Government auditors under death trap

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Death is just a few metres away from civil servants who work at National Audit Office (NAO) in Lilongwe.

These are government auditors who are famed for and mandated by law to police fellow public institutions in as far as public funds expenditure is concerned.

Government has been reluctant for over 15 years to take prescriptions to improve their safety despite raising an alarm of insecurity on the premises they operate from.

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Reports indicate that the public auditors are still operating from a building that was condemned some 15 years ago and there is little, if not no sign at all, that they are moving out any time soon.

The building used to be a Malawi Young Pioneers carport during one-party State before it was later sold to a private investor.

An assessment report from Department of Buildings in Ministry of Transport and Public Works done 15 years ago recommended maintenance in the short term while demolishing of the structure in the long term.

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Acting Auditor General Thomas Makiwa does not hide his frustration considering that the matter was reported a long time ago to Public Sector Investment Programme years back.

“Generally, like any other person, if the working environment is not conducive, psychologically you are affected. It is a safety control issues that needs to be resolved,” he said.

The assessment said some cracks would reappear after sometime and though maintenance of cracks is not easy but it will help the officers feel safer psychologically as they occupy the place.

Cracks on the walls of the main building, floor tiles that were pealed from the floor of some parts of the offices remain the present view.

The building is associated with hairline cracks on the reception wall which creeps further up the wall and widens to the roof while holding the life of the structure.

Falling ceilings that carry drips of rainfall from the rooftop are some of the glaring problems.

Makiwa said time and again there are issues of electrical and plumbing and that has affected their operations and sometimes such issues expose documents to a greater risk because the building is not secure.

“The greatest impact is that there will be loss of life and that comes with compensations. sometimes when its rainy season, some offices do leak and the security of documents is exposed and that some officers cannot report for work because offices become uninhabitable of the leaking of the rooms,” he said.

Makiwa further said assessments were done by Department of Buildings pegging the construction of new building at $10 million (approximately K10 billion).

“When there is a project of this nature, we are supposed to write a concept that was done. The good thing is the land belongs to the government and initiation assessments were also done by the department of the buildings,” he said.

The matter has angered most members of Parliament with legislator for Zomba Chisi Mark Botomani describing it as a time bomb.

In one of its engagement with Ministry of Finance, Chairperson for Budget Gladys Ganda, who is also lawmaker for Nsanje Lalanje, said the matter is long overdue despite the committees pushing for change.

But Secretary to Treasury Macdonald Mwale while acknowledging that the matter was new to him, said they will plan on how to address that in one way or the other but in the long term, they are part of this building they are going to do for all governance institutions under the local currency infrastructure bond.

“There is already a process where we are building for such kind of institution, we will discuss with the institution on how best we can help them,” he said.

Executive Director Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency, one of the local organisations advancing issues of transparency and accountability, Willy Kambwandira said the current situation at NAO puts lives of hundreds people at risk and smells of incompetence and negligence by some public officers.

“It’s our expectation that someone will have to be held accountable on this matter. We are greatly concerned about continued indecisiveness in the public service. Government’s negligence to relocate NAO staff from the old and dilapidated building is regrettable,” Kambwandira said.

As it stands, without efforts to relocate officers from the building, a day is pending when over 100 lives will be lost.

Further, the country also risks losing valuable information that helps keep public resource utilisation on track.

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