The Green Belt idea came in on a lofty promise to revolutionize Malawi’s agriculture. But behind the scenes, it emerges, it has been a fertile ground for illegal harvesting of public funds, as revealed by an audit at one of the firms which has now collapsed
A forensic audit at Nchalo Greenbelt Limited (NGBL), a subsidiary of the Green Belt Authority, has exposed how a loan facility that was supposed to boost production of cotton seed ended up in the pockets of board members and senior management.
According to the audit report, NGBL entered into an agreement with Admarc in May 2018 to produce 4,700 metric tonnes of cotton seed without the approval of the Green Belt Authority (GBA) board.
Under the contract, NGBL was responsible for provision of land and farmers while Admarc was responsible for pre-financing the acquisition of farm inputs and other operational costs on a recovery basis.
The report says by December 2020, Admarc, using a loan facility obtained from the Expert Development Fund had pre-financed a total of K2,536,584,699.60 to NGBL but the company had delivered cotton seed valued at K92 million only, leaving the outstanding balance of K2. 4 billion said to have been wasted.
The forensic report covers the period between May 15, 2018 and December 31, 2021.
The report says there is no proof of evidence of goods or work by 41 suppliers and companies that allegedly received money from NGBL amounting to a total of K 1.5 billion as payment for goods or services delivered.
There are about 61 individuals that allegedly received money from NGBL but there is no evidence of delivery of goods and services. Together, they walked away with as much as K985 million.
It has also emerged in the audit report that some of the beneficiary companies belong to spouses of senior management at NGBL, while others belong to members of the board of the NGBL
The report has also exposed embezzlement of funds disguised as staff loans at NGBL amounting to K 18 million.
Other fraud infested transactions include administrative expenses which according to the report were marred by conflict of interest, vague legal payments and unavailability of paper works.
“Legal fees [were] paid out without paperwork detailing lawsuits at hand. Other paperwork shows legal fees paid to [a firm] in relation to a case that occurred prior to the establishment of NGBL, rental payments being paid for the office block that houses NGBL offices [belongs to a manager who doubled as board director at NGBL]. There were significant payments of car hire,” reads the report.
According to the report, further review shows that the majority of the payments were paid to one person.
“The payment vouchers were only supported by a receipt. No further records are available to show hiring details including purpose for hiring,” reads part of the report.
The report further says NGBL provided receipts of procurement of spare parts and vehicle services when records show that the company had no vehicle.
The forensic audit further notes that there was no feasibility study for the multi-billion project.
It also faults the Export Development Fund for not conducting credit risk assessment to the financier, Admarc, before granting a loan facility.
Acting Auditor General Thomas Makiwa confirmed the Audit was conducted by his office.
He said “the NGBL board will handle the technical protocols of the report.”
Board Chairperson of the Greenbelt Authority Wester Kosamu confirmed to have received the audit report.
“We ordered the Auditor General to conduct the forensic audit report to know what happened for the Nchalo Greenbelt to collapse. The report has come out, the board has resolved to report the matter to the Anti-Corruption Bureau,” Kosamu said.
In reaction, Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency Executive Director Willy Kambwandira has described the revelations at NGBL as conspiracy to loot public coffers by NGBL management and board.
“It is sad that Malawians are being treated to numerous media exposes of abominable looting of the public purse. The sad thing is that these shameless racketeers have amassed billions of our taxes unabated.
“What has happened at NGBL is web of crafted crime that was carefully crafted to facilitate theft and plunder public coffers selfish personal gains.
“This is pure conniving between the NGBL board and management to defraud Malawians. If unchecked this will leave the vast majority of Malawians on their knees. The NGBL board and management must account for their actions and we expect to see arrests on the matter. It is sad that there is not much to write home about with regards to efforts to deal with alarming levels of plunder of public funds,” Kambwandira said.