An investigative audit by the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) has revealed that about K77.2 million meant for the Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP) was misappropriated at Lilongwe District Council between July 2018 and December 2019.
Lilongwe District Commissioner Lawford Palani, while confirming the development, said he could not say much on the issue as it was in court.
The audit was suctioned in July 2020 at a meeting comprising Ministry of Social Welfare, Lilongwe District Council and National Local Government Finance Committee officials to ascertain whether beneficiaries of the programme received the transfers.
The report shows that, out of the K77.2 million allocated to the initiative, about K59.5 million was misappropriated through absent beneficiaries, K13,514,700 was for duplicate beneficiaries who are currently annulled while K4,139,800 was for duplicate beneficiaries who are still active.
The report further indicates that the audit team was able to allocate K63 million to accounting personnel who went to the field to dispense the transfers but was unable to allocate K14,124,500.00 due to lack of records.
The SCTP operational manual on the handling of unpaid transfers states that, if the beneficiary did not collect the transfer, this will be indicated in the reconciliation report or be added to the next transfer list.
The manual further states that, in case the transfer could not be delivered once, the transfer will be made during the next transfer cycle— which means the transfer receiver will then receive two transfers at once.
“A review of the findings shows that absentee beneficiary transfers amounting to K59,550,000 were not paid to the beneficiaries in the subsequent cycles. Absentee beneficiaries’ transfers amounting to K59,550,000 were misappropriated. This was substantiated by the records on the beneficiary passbooks which, indeed, showed gaps and no arrears in the subsequent cycles were paid.
“A further analysis of the system shows that passbooks of the absentee beneficiaries were re-printed during the cycles in which they were absent and the system was reconciled showing that the beneficiary had purportedly received,” the audit report reads.
The report says the misappropriation was caused by collusion between accounts officers and technical staff.
The audit also blamed lack of controls when reprinting passbooks for beneficiaries who have no passbooks or have damaged passbooks.
Other lapses include lack of alternate beneficiary receivers to get the transfers in the stead of absent beneficiaries as well as the absence of community representatives when accounts and technical staff are doing reconciliations on the ground after transfer payments.
In a letter dated June 14 2021, addressed to Secretary for Local Government Charles Kalemba, Palani indicated that four council officers were arrested over the matter.
The four are Assistant Accountant Suzan Chadza, Accounts Assistant Rodrick Kadango, Social Welfare Officer Victoria Kamanga and Principal Social Welfare Officer Vivian Limbe.
“The four were suspended in July 2020 pending audit beneficiary identification which was concluded in December 2020. The verification report further alleges that several accounts officers who went to field clusters to pay the beneficiaries brought back the money for the absentees and duplicate names and remitted it to the two accounts officers.
“The two technical officers would scan the passbooks and cash the money. They would report as if all the beneficiaries were paid. This malpractice was uncovered by management upon District Social Support Committee spot checks,” Palani’s letter reads.
In a related development, Mmbelwa District Council Chairperson Yolanda Ngwira has said her office has also been getting reports of abuse of SCTP funds in the district.
She, however, said there was a need for an audit to ascertain whether the reports are true or not.
Meanwhile, Centre for Social Concern Programme Officer Responsible for Economic Governance Bernard Mphepo has said there is a need for Capital Hill to put in place sound follow-up mechanisms to ensure that SCTP funds go to intended beneficiaries.
Mphepo said weakly follow-ups on the part of authorities had been a major setback in implementation of the programme.
“If the government could put in place very strict measures of following up on the payments, it could help in reducing cases of misappropriation of funds,” Mphepo said.