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Nche caught in abuse of funds

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World Bank funds under the Skills Development Project (SDP) are said to be abused at the National Council for Higher Education (Nche) with some officers drawing huge fuel and airtime allowances without approval of management and the council.

The said abuse of funds has forced Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Golden Msilimba, to resign.

According to documents that we have seen, some officers drew huge fuel allowances ranging from 250 litres to 100 litres and airtime ranging from K70,000 to K15,000 for a one week local meeting at Bingu International Conference Centre (Bicc) in Lilongwe.

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Nche Chief Executive Officer, Mathildah Chithila-Munthali, asked us to call her today afternoon to arrange for a meeting for “correct and right information”.

But Nche Chairperson, Stanley Khaila, in an interview yesterday justified a letter he wrote to the CEO with the heading “Fuel an

Airtime Allowance from the Skills Development Fund” dated January 4, 2016, saying he was stopping the abuse of the funds because “they [management] had decided to get allowances. I was stopping that.”

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“I received a copy of the correspondence of 9th December 2015 from the Deputy Chief Executive Officer to you [the council management]. One of the attachments in the said communication is on the ‘Emerging Issue of fuel and airtime allocation. After consultation with the DCEO, I learnt that these allowances are drawn from the Skills Development Funds.

“Recognising that one of the issues to be discussed in the extraordinary meeting was government’s query on allowances and that the monies are donor funds and sensitive, I brought this issue to the attention of the council. Council wanted more information on the matter but had no details.

“Lack of details notwithstanding, members of the Council expressed concern at the payment of these allowances which, according to the memo of the DCEO, were implemented without the approval of both management and the Council itself,” reads Khaila’s letter which is labelled confidential.

He adds: “Consequently, Council, recognising the sensitivity of the matter, resolved that the payment of these allowances should be suspended immediately and that the Chairperson of Faac [Finance Appointments and Administration Committee] and one other member of Faac should obtain full information on the payment of these allowances before the next meeting of Council for the Council to make an informed decision.”

In April, Khaila communicated to management asking for the cancellation of the allowances. And the CEO responded. Her letter dated June 8 2016 with Ref. No. NCHE/ADM/1/1 has the title: Cancellation of fuel and airtime allowances from the Public Universities Selection (PUS) and Skills Development Project (SDP) Funds.”

“Reference is made to your letter dated 7th April, 2016 communicating the decision of the Council on payment of operational costs for Public Universities Select ion and Skil l s Development Project. I would like to thank council for providing oversight role in the operations of the Secretariat. The Secretariat will continue seeking guidance from the council and its sub-committees.

“Through consultations at management level, it was resolved that operational costs be paid to staff supporting SDP and Public Universities Selection (PUS) to facilitate their work. Management was of the view that these were falling under operational budgets for both SDP and PUS. Management considered the mobility and communication a staff member makes in executing SDP or PUS activities before determining the allocation of fuel and airtime.

“The idea was to improve efficiency and effectiveness against a background of low staffing levels. However, Council in its wisdom viewed them as extra allowances paid to staff. I am pleased to inform Council that the resolution made by the Council at its 5th Extra-Ordinary meeting held on 29th January, 2016 was already communicated to staff and also has been implemented in totality,” reads the letter.

In his letter date July 21 2016 addressed to Council chair, Msilimba spills the beans and cites the abuse of the donor funds as one of the many reasons for his resignation. Copies of the letter are sent to the Comptroller of Statutory Corporations and Secretary for Education.

“There has been an increasing desire to abuse World Bank funds by a few individuals. Council previously deliberated on the abuse of fuel and airtime by the secretariat on 29th January 2016 and directed the secretariat to immediately stop the illegal payments. Despite the condemnation from the Council on abuse of World Bank funding, the secretariat has devised new ways of benefitting from the World Bank project,” Msilimba’s letter, reads.

In his letter he says if an officer is travelling to Blantyre on a trip funded by the organisation, he gets K70, 000 worth of fuel while to Mangochi one gets K55, 181 fuel and K10, 000 airtime.

“If this is compared with a World Bank workshop which occurred in Lilongwe at Bicc recently, one would clearly see an abuse of funds where the fuel estimator which is normally used or World Bank rates were suspended in totality,” Msilimba writes.

He alleges that some officers did not even attend the meeting but received the fuel while others were not available full time.

Airtime received for the one week meeting was as follows: Chief Executive Officer K70 000.00; Corporate Services ManagerK50 000; Policy Research and Planning Manager K40,000; Procurement Specialist K30 000; ICT Specialist K20 000; Human Resources Manager K20,000; a Mr Chikoti K50,000; a Dr. Khembo K40,000; Assistant Accountant K20 000.00; Senior Personal Assistant K20,000; Personal Assistant K20,000; landline K80 000; two drivers each got K15,000 airtime.

“The basis for the allocations cannot be justified. The discrepancies between ORT and the World Bank payments cannot be explained and this leaves many people speculating. Even some officers who were not on duty were paid,” Msilimba says

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