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Interdicted DCs fault govt on Covid-19 funds refund

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By Yohane Symon 

The instruction by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, through Dodma, for District Councils, to return Covid-19 response funds is irrational, according to some District Commissioners.

This position is shared by some governance experts who accuse the government of confusing itself on the matter.

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On 24th February, DODMA (Department of Disaster Management Affairs) wrote all District Commissioners to stop spending and return the money allocated to them from the K17.5 billon which government disbursed in January this year towards the fight against Covid-19.

‘We’re on interdiction’

But in an interview, several District Commissioners we talked to wondered why government was asking the officials it has interdicted to provide itemised plans of how they will use the money — which it already gave them.

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“The communication is wrong in the first place. There is no way they can demand plans from a person who is interdicted. On top of that, we have been giving them plans every week and we don’t know what kind of reports they are now looking for,” said a DC who opted for anonymity.

‘Pure confusion’

Another DC said he believed that Dodma and the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 are not aware of what to do. He said most of the councils started using the part which they received from the K17.5 billion which Treasury released to them.

“Some of us had started procuring face masks as government directed. Now they are telling us to stop everything and return the money. This is pure confusion by the people leading the task force,” said the DC.

The local government official also accused Dodma of victimising the DCs by demanding weekly reports and plans although the councils have already been submitting these documents.

“We have been traveling to Lilongwe twice a week to present plans and reports. Yet they are also demanding other reports. We cannot make these plans because we are interdicted. Let them work with the people who are acting now,” said the DC.

‘Govt working in reverse’

Executive Director for Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency Willy Kambwandira said the call by the government for the councils to return the money is an indication that government released the K17.5 billion without having an expenditure plan in place.

He said there was need to deeply dig into the matter to establish who authorised the release of the funds to councils without having in place expenditure and activity plans.

“It is a very sad situation for the entire ministry, cluster or council to spend millions without a budget and activity plan. We are not surprised though that councils, clusters and ministries could spend the way they want because there was no control. Understandably, without a budget people are expected to misuse the funds,” he said.

Kambwandira described as unfair that government is pushing councils or clusters to transfer the funds which might have already been spent without budget. He described government’s action as a witch-hunt and a demonstration of serious leakages in the public finance management.

“We do not agree with the directive that councils return the funds to Dodma account. But we agree with the need to have plans in place on how the money will be spent. We however wonder why the taskforce released the K17.5 billion without asking budgets from the clusters or councils. It appears the government is working in reverse,” said Kambwandira.

He also wondered why Dodma splashed an additional K17.5 billion to people who had already failed to account for K6.2 billion. Moses Mkandawire of Church and Society of the Livingstonia Synod demanded that Dodma should explain why it released the funds without plans of how the money would be used.

“Whenever resources have been released, there is a requisition that justifies the resource expenditure. There is also liquidations of the resources which have been used. This is the standard practice around the globe, unless they [Dodma] want to tell us that our local system is in short supply or ineffective,” said Mkandawire.

He warned that Covid-19 could continue killing a lot of people if government continues to be this indecisive.

“The mere wiring back of funds into Dodma account [by the councils] will not prevent theft of the funds. Government needs to put in place strong people who have the capacity to put in place systems that can improve utilisation of public funds,” he said.

‘Undermining rule of law’

On how the interdiction complicated the Dodma ultimatum, the Malawi Local Government Association (Malga) said government erred in the first place by interdicting the DCS without duly investigating them.

Malga Executive Director Hadrod Zeru Mkandawire said government should have first investigated and then interdict only the DCs who would have been found to be in the wrong. He said Malga is worried that the step which government took is contradicting the principles of decentralisation which Malawi adopted in 1998.

“This is a deliberate move by government to undermine the rule of law that govern decentralisation in the country,” said Mkandawire.

He further said the idea by government to interdict the DCs without a time frame is also another concern which Malga want government to rectify as soon as possible to avoid victimisation the DCs further.

When contacted to comment on these concerns, Commissioner for Disaster Management Affairs, who signed the letter demanding that councils should return the money, said he was only a messenger sent by the Presidential Task force.

“What I communicated was a decision which was reached at by the taskforce; so I cannot comment,” said Chimphepo.

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