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MPs threaten parastatal heads over allowances

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GOT COMPLAINTS—Chizuma

Some parliamentary committee members are said to be abusing their powers by threatening parastatal heads when playing their oversight role, Malawi News has established.

Among others, the MPs are said to be demanding money in form of allowances from the parastatals despite having received allowances from Parliament for the same activity.

The alleged misconduct of the lawmakers has not gone down well with the Office of the Ombudsman, which has described it as a crime, in line with Section 88 of the Public Finance Management Act.

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In a letter to Speaker of the National Assembly, dated January 10 that Malawi News has seen, Ombudsman Martha Chizuma said her office has in the past months received a number of anonymous and informal complaints against the general misconduct of the MPs.

“The major complaint is about the rising tendency of some honourable members of Parliament visiting parastatals and demanding money in form of allowances (subsistence and fuel allowance) from them. Even threatening their Chief Executive Officers if they do not meet the said demands.

“It would seem from the allegations that the said allowances are supposed to be paid for them to conduct a specific activity connected with the parastatal…However, in most of the instances the honourable members have allegedly already been paid same allowances by Parliament for the exact same activity. In other words the honourable members are getting double payment,” reads the letter in part.

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Chizuma confirmed writing the letter to the Speaker.

“I can confirm we engaged with Parliament earlier this year on the issue in question. This was after receiving so many allegations through our various platforms. Despite not getting hard evidence for the same due to the intensity but most importantly the fact that the allegations were on abuse of public funds by some MPs my office felt duty bound to bring this issue to the Speaker who later organised that we interface with chairpersons of the parliamentary committees. It was a good and cordial discussion.

“Whilst they helped us appreciate that some of people could be complaining from point of ignorance on how parliament works and gets its funding, they also appreciated our concern arising from the allegations that some MPs demand funding from parastatals to do particular activity when the same has already been paid for by parliament. In other words dipping into public purse 2 or 3 times using different bodies but for one activity which basically is stealing from the same people they represent,” Chizuma said.

She said they emphasised that as an institution that plays oversight, it is important that they desist from such malpractices.

“The Speaker undertook to put in measures that would put such conduct if any in check and we are hopeful through this and the discussion that if indeed these allegations had a basis we will see a change,” Chizuma said.

The Ombudsman also warmed the MPs against absenteeism arguing the conduct denies the constituents necessary representation to decisions that parliament make.

“Madam Speaker as of now my office has not received any concrete evidence to these allegations. Kindly be informed that in the event we receive concrete evidence on the above allegations against any particular Honourable Member we will not hesitate to discharge our legal mandate,” reads part of the letter

Parliament spokesperson, Ian Mwenye, acknowledged interventions from the Ombudsman on the matter, followed by a meeting with chairpersons of the committees on January 17, 2020.

“Parliament has guidelines on how parliamentary committees engage with stakeholders, logistics including funding. You may wish to be informed that assistance for funding of committee activities outside government funding is facilitated by the office of the Clerk of Parliament,” he said.

Apparently, MPs receive a sitting allowance of K60,000.

Mwenye said there is need for public awareness initiatives by Parliament for all stakeholders to understand various roles played in the operations of Parliament, especially its committees.

Social commentator, Makhumbo Munthali said the allegations of MPs demanding allowances are shocking.

Munthali said parliamentary committees are supposed to play an oversight role and issue reports whenever they visit parastatals in an impartial manner.

He said by receiving money, it would affect the way they would report, saying they would be forced to issue a sugarcoated report based on the amount of money received or issue a bad report in the event of being denied allowances.

“This is a form of corruption and there is need for the Anti- Corruption Bureau to investigate the matter further,” Munthali said.

The alleged conduct of the lawmakers cost the country a European Union (EU) funded K98 billion project as they demanded the organisation to increase allowance if they were to attend the meetings.

The donors suspended the support to Parliament and its Media Committee, which was meant to strengthen governance in the Agriculture Sector, with EU Ambassador to Malawi Sandra Paeson bemoaning the tendency.

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