Government through the Ministry of Finance has moved in to investigate some government officials at the Karonga District Council following reports of their involvement in massive plunder of public resources at the council.
Treasury spokesperson, Nations Msowoya, confirmed the development on Tuesday, saying they have deployed their auditors to the district for commencement of the probe.
Some of the names implicated in the loot which dates back to 2012 includes, former District Commissioner (DC), Emmanuel Bambe, who is now Director of Local Government and District Lands Officer, Phillimon Maseko. The other accused are other former Karonga DCs and serving officials whom we did not manage to get their side of the story.
According to Msowoya, the reports are disturbing, especially at this time when government is striving to save every penny to meet the recently passed K1 trillion national budget.
“Our officers are already on the ground looking into the Karonga issue, and we hope that appropriate action will follow depending on the findings,” he said.
This comes after Paramount Chief Kyungu and a team of councillors over the weekend sounded an SOS to government that the highly touted Public Sector Reforms may be meaningless for the district since government departments are infested with fraudsters.
“We have people in our midst, who have been at the centre of extravagance and misuse of public resources which is evident through the worth they have accumulated in a very short period of time through construction of houses and motor vehicle purchases among others,” Kyungu said.
During Bambe’s tenure in June 2013, about K33 million had gone missing from the council’s account and he was quoted in the media as saying the bank had said it was due to overdrawing.
Around the same time, reports emerged of fraudulent land deals at the council with a majority of senior officers allegedly benefiting.
In September 2015, it was also reported that K21 million from the council’s development fund could not be traced.
Quizzed on the allegations on Tuesday, Bambe denied taking part in any kind of fraud. He accused Kyungu and some of the councillors of witch-hunting.
“All necessary procedures of land acquisition were followed, and I see no reason why we should be denied the right for personal development in life simply because we are public officers. Anyone with a case should go to the Anti-Corruption Bureau and lodge a formal complaint,” Bambe said.
On his part, Maseko concurred with Bambe, saying the argument that earnings for civil servants are meagre for major investments does not hold water.
“We have various ventures for income generation, need I mention that we have people in Karonga with four, five plots of land but no one is pointing fingers at them. Anyway, these accusations have been there ever since and we are not surprised that they have resurfaced,” said Maseko who has been in the civil service since 2010.
In the five years of service apart from embarking on a multi-million house project, Maseko has to his name three motor vehicles Nissan Tiida, Toyota Passo and a Mitsubishi Canter which on average go at K3 million, K2 million and K6.5 million respectively.
But Chairperson for Karonga District Council, Patrick Kishombe, challenged Maseko not to demean the councillors and people of Karonga.
“These officers think people of Karonga are sleepy, that’s why they are giving such lame explanations. They have turned the council into a goldmine and we are determined to see that the tendency comes to an end. We are not saying this from the blues, people have evidence which will be produced at an appropriate time,” Kishombe said.
He expressed surprise as to why government has been hesitant in deploying an internal auditor to the council three years after they made a request.
But spokesperson in the Ministry of Local Government, Mulhabase Mughogho, said under the reforms programme, the issue of internal auditors at councils has been taken care of.
Currently, according to Treasury, district councils are audited once in every two years which Msowoya conceded that it is not regular enough to ensure financial prudence and accountability by public officers.
Members of the Karonga District Council want Maseko relieved of his duties on allegations that he and other officers misappropriated K51 million meant for the Public Works Programme under the fourth cycle of the Malawi Social Action Fund (Masaf).
In a letter signed by Kishombe and endorsed by Kyungu, Maseko’s office is also accused of failing to account for material in the Malata and Cement Subsidy Programme.
However, Mughogho has faulted the council’s approach on the matter.
Kyungu and Karonga councillors have always been at loggerheads with the council’s secretariat over various allegations but government has always cleared the civil servants.
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