Fear has gripped workers at the Accountant General (AG)’s Department following the arrest of nine accountants, a development that has crippled government payment systems as some accountants have resorted to putting down tools in a show of solidarity with those arrested.
Analysts have warned that, if the situation persists, it may bring government operations to a halt, considering that essential payments are piling up at the office.
However, Secretary to the Treasury Macdonald Mafuta Mwale Wednesday said the Treasury has put in place business continuity measures.
Inside sources in other government departments told The Daily Times that it has been close to a week now since accountants at the AG’s office put down their tools.
Some accountants were spotted at court premises in Lilongwe on Monday, when they offered moral support to four of their arrested colleagues, who were in court for bail application processes.
“There are a lot of payment files that have been sent to the AG’s office for payment processes to be effected but nothing is happening. We were told that no accountant was working as they were afraid that they, too, could be arrested.
“Our worry, at the ministry, is that some public boarding schools may be forced to close in the absence of payments. Learners are running short of food in some schools, hence the delays are a setback,” the sources said.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe said they are aware of the situation at the AG’s office.
He said the trend is affecting their payment system and services as well.
“What is happening is retrogressive. We have crucial payments that need to be done as soon as possible but we are failing to make payments due to what is happening at the AG’s office.
“If this continues, we, as a ministry that runs hospitals in the country, will be completely shuttered,” Chikumbe said.
Director for Centre for Research and Consultants Milward Tobias said it is sad that some people can choose not to work because their friends have been arrested.
He said the Treasury and the Human Resource Department have to act on such people because that is against work ethics.
“You don’t expect the whole government system to stop functioning because of some individuals who think they can be absconding from work using lame excuses. If the police decide to arrest some people because of some issues, let the police and courts do their job and the rest of the people should get back to work,” Tobias said.
But in a written response to a The Daily Times questionnaire, Mafuta Mwale said the ministry has been briefed that some people are not going to work on the pretence that they want to be with their colleagues at police stations or courts.
He was, however, quick to note that payments have not been affected as they have put in place business continuity measures.
“Not coming to work is their choice but absenteeism from work is an offence that will attract appropriate penalties. I cannot abscond from work just because my friend is being questioned by the police.
“I wish to assure the nation that government processes cannot stop because of a few individuals. As of now, we have deployed, and will continue to bring in, more people from other MDAs [ministries, departments and agencies] including RBM [Reserve Bank of Malawi] to make sure that the payment system remains operational,” Mwale said.
Recently, the Treasury announced that it had migrated from the use of cheques to electronic cash transfer under the new Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis).
The process of payment under the new Ifmis requires the head of department to prepare payments. After that, the accountant of that department prepares payments in the already built-up system before bringing out a voucher list which is, then, taken to the AG’s office.
At the AG’s office, the vouchers are processed electronically under the unit called Electronic Funds Transfer by Super Users.
This unit is the one that transfers all the processes to RBM, where final approvals are done and the money is sent to MDAs’ bank accounts.
The nine people that were arrested are part of the Super Users the ministry has.
Recently, police arrested nine accountants at the AG’s office for the alleged abuse of funds amounting to K283 million.
The nine were all released on bail by Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrate Madalitso Khoswe Chimwaza as the State finalises investigations into the matter.