President Lazarus Chakwera has said there is need to immediately change the leadership of the board of Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) after reports of wasteful spending at the parastatal.
He was commenting on the issue for the first time since Malawi News broke the story on June 12.
Speaking when he launched phase two of the Malawi National Fibre Backbone Project in Lilongwe, Chakwera said he will not entertain anyone seeking to take advantage of his government.
Macra has been embroiled in controversy after Malawi News revealed that board members had spent over K40 million on a reported capacity building training in Dubai.
“That the Board Chairperson of Macra could not find a more cost-effective way of enhancing the capacity of board members than taking them to Dubai and blowing millions is a clear sign that the leadership of Macra Board needs to change immediately,” said Chakwera.
He said as Malawi’s development partners work hard and smart to help in building a new Malawi of digital transformation, “the last thing we need is to be caught wasting precious resources that are critical to regulating our ICT industry.”
Chakwera said last year, he spent endless hours configuring the boards of parastatals and if any parastatal board chairperson he appointed thinks that their position is a licence for wanton wastefulness, they better think again.
“I expect board chairpersons to be watchdogs against waste, not enablers of it. If we are going to make good use of the work and tools we get from our development partners, such as this fibre backbone, then we ourselves need to get serious in this country,” he said.
Minister of Information, Gospel Kazako, could not confirm reports that the President had fired the board chairperson.
“Go back to the speech and read it carefully,” Kazako said in an interview yesterday.
He is however on record to have advised Macra board against the Dubai trip which he found expensive.
The Macra board is chaired by Stanley Khaila.
Malawi News investigations exposed that five board members and two management officers —a lawyer and an economist—travelled to Dubai for a two-week training on corporate governance and regulatory master class on Information Communication and Technology (ICT) at Pinnacle Training Institute.
For the two weeks, each board member pocketed not less than K5.4 million. In total, the five board members got no less than K27 million for the two weeks.
Expenditure for air tickets for all the five was about K7.5 million as each air ticket cost about K1.5 million.
Our calculations show that Macra spent about K34.5 million for the board’s allowances and air tickets.
Malawi News also established that the two management officers got K4.5 million for the lawyer and K4.2 million for the economist.
In total, the institution spent about K3 million on air tickets for the two managers and about K8.7 million on allowances.
Total allowances for the board members and the two management officers come to around K46.2 million. This amount does not include payment that went to the Dubai Training Institute.
Macra Communications Officer Clara Ngwira confirmed to Malawi News then and justified the board’s training in Dubai.
She said the training was already budgeted for in Macra’s 2020/2021 annual budget.
“It is part of capacity building for our board members as most of them are new to ICT regulation. We locally conducted a training on Macra overview and ICT regulation after their appointment and this time the training is on corporate governance and regulatory master class on ICT,” said Ngwira in an interview.
After the story was published, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition asked Chakwera to fire the board for being extravagant and insensitive.
Speaking earlier at the function, Vice president of Southern Africa Regional Huawei Technologies Limited, Liao Yong, said they are willing to work with the government through their expertise in ICT by building modern digital infrastructure and equipping people with digital skills to remain competitive globally.
“Amidst this pandemic we all realised that the relief and recovery that ICT has brought about is not only remarkable but immense. There is a future within reach where our farmers can get timely market information with well-developed e-commerce,” said Yong.
Yong announced a free ICT training for 50 outstanding Malawian students through the Seeds for the Future programme it is implementing.