By Deogratias Mmana:
As Minister of Finance Felix Mlusu is facing a K718 billion deficit for the 2021/2022 National Budget, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) board of directors has reportedly blown over K46 million for attending a two-week orientation in Dubai.
Rights activists and economic experts have since described the move as wasteful, unjustified and abuse of resources.
Malawi News findings reveal that five board members and two management officers travelled to Dubai for training on corporate governance and regulatory masterclass on Information Communication and Technology (ICT) at Pinnacle Training Institute and are expected back today, June 12, 2021.
We have also established that every Macra board member is entitled an external travel allowance of US$480 per day, which is equivalent to K386,400 (at the exchange rate of K805 to a dollar).
This means that for the two week period, each board member pocketed not less than K5,409,600. In total, all the five board members got not less than K27, 048,000.
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 K34,548,000 for the board’s allowances and air tickets.
We have also established that the two management officers, a legal counsel and an economist who accompanied the board, got daily allowances of US$400 and US$375, translating into K322,000 and K301,875 respectively.
This means that for the 14 days, the legal counsel got K4,508,000 while the economist got K4,226,250.
In total, the institution spent about K3 million on air tickets for the two managers and about K8,734,250 on allowances.
Total allowances for the board members and the two management officers come to around K46,282,250.
Macra Communications Officer, Clara Ngwira, confirmed and justified the board training in Dubai, which she said 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 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,” Ngwira said in an interview.
She also disclosed that each board member collected an allowance of US$480 dollars per day for two weeks and about K1.5 million each for the air ticket.
Ngwira also confirmed that two management officers accompanied the board.
Justifying the training in Dubai, Ngwira said: “Management considered various options on the training and settled for Pinnacle Training Institute because it is a renowned training provider in Dubai using different experts. Conducting the training in Malawi would result in fewer experts travelling to Malawi and that would dilute the richness of the training.”
But some governance institutions and economic experts have laughed off Macra’s justification, describing the training as wasteful and reflecting badly on the appointing authority for choosing incapable people to oversee statutory bodies.
“Sending board of directors for training demeans the board members. It reflects that management could be noticing deficiency in their skills. Further and more dangerously, sending board of directors for training reflects badly on the President as the appointing authority. In essence, Macra is saying the President appointed people whose capacity needs beefing up,” Milward Tobias, Director for Centre for Research and Consultancy, said.
HRDC chairperson Gift Trapence demanded a better explanation from Macra for organising such training overseas.
“Macra could have done better. There are so many better training facilities in Malawi. This is abuse of resources and should not be tolerated,” he said.
Economist Hopkins Kawaye, who is based at Catholic University of Malawi, wondered why the board had to fly all the way to Dubai for such training when President Lazarus Chakwera and Vice President Saulos Chilima have been attending high level meetings virtually because of Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is typical waste of government resources. Macra is demonstrating fiscal imprudence,” he said.
Another economist, Tchereni Betchani, said although the training may have been budgeted for, it was important for Macra to be prudent in making its decisions.
“It is really appalling to see people going to blow up finances that huge. This is extravagance,” Betchani said.
He added: “They may have budgeted for this training and the budget may have been approved. In any case, austerity needs to be exercised by everybody particularly those in senior positions needing to make important decisions. It will be difficult for the board to question any extravagance given that they led in doing so.”
Macra is a statutory body established under the Communications Act, 1998 to regulate the provision of services in the communications sector in Malawi comprising telecommunications, posts and broadcasting.