By Rebecca Chimjeka & Audrey Kapalamula
Fiscal Police have arrested four more accountants at the Accountant General (AG)’s department, in relation to suspected fraud at Capital Hill, bringing the number of officers nabbed so far to 18.
The amount of money suspected to have been siphoned has also jumped from K371 million which we reported on Monday, according to information we sourced from State prosecutors, to K461 million.
The four, who were arrested Tuesday, are Emmanuel Chimata, Francis Chinthiti, Akuzike Chaongola and Fletcher Mugala.
Malawi Police Service (MPS) deputy spokesperson Harry Namwaza has confirmed the latest arrests which have been made five days after four others were picked by the police.
“This is an ongoing matter at the Accountant General’s Department,” Namwaza said in a brief response to our enquiry.
He also confirmed that the arrests are in connection with the investigations that the Fiscal Police have been conducting at the AG’s office.
The law enforcers had earlier indicated that possibilities where high that more officers at the office would be detained in the course of their investigations which they have not openly stated when they are likely to wind up.
The suspected fraud came to light last month, after police investigations indicated that accounting personnel at the AG’s department had been conniving with accountants from government agencies to siphon money from Account Number One through allowances.
The suspected fraud has seen over 25 accountants from the Anti- Corruption Bureau, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Malawi Defence Force, MPS and the Judiciary being implicated.
The money was allegedly being drawn from almost all government agencies and departments.
The Daily Times has it on good authority that some officers were getting more than 40-days-worth of allowances per month.
Capital Hill sources confided in us that a front desk officer at the AG responsible for disbursing e-payments for ministries and government departments was the first to be caught.
An officer privy to the investigations also confided in us that one officer at the AG’s department was getting an average of K7 million every month, which raised eyebrows and an alert was sent to the Financial Intelligence Authority and the Fiscal Police.
While applauding Fiscal Police for uncovering the syndicate, Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency Executive Director Willy Kambwandira described the revelations as a litmus test for the implementation of the new Public Finance Management Act.
“The revelations are a clear indication that the public purse remains vulnerable to abuse. Unfortunately we are not seeing genuine deterrent measures being taken against people who are involved,” Kambwandira said.
Meanwhile, the Auditor General’s office has said there are no plans to execute a special audit at the Office of the Accountant General.
Acting Auditor General Thomas Makiwa said his office will audit the Accountant General’s office through routine auditing channels.
“We will include this area in our audit programme since we are already doing statutory audits for ministries, departments and agencies for the year ended March 31 2022,” Makiwa said.
Newly appointed chairperson for the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, Mark Botomani, said the revelations of the alleged theft were depressing.
Botomani, however, indicated that his committee has not yet been appraised on the developments.
“Our hope is that there will be a speedy process of auditing the department in order to get to the root of the issues happening there. Meanwhile, as chairperson, I will be engaging the acting Auditor General on the same,” he said.
The 14 accountants arrested before those who were picked Tuesday were granted court bail while the four are yet to appear in court.