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Treasury authorises diversion of Covid funds

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George Jobe

Treasury has allowed local councils in the country to use some of the Covid Other Recurrent Transactions (ORT) funds to finance priority short-term cholera control expenses as the outbreak rages.

A letter released Wednesday from the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) indicates that the waiver comes following recommendations by the Presidential Taskforce on Covid and Cholera through the Ministry of Local Government.

According to the taskforce, the funds should be used for three key priority areas of case management, water supply and treatment suppliers and risk communication and community engagement.

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With the money, councils have also been empowered to hire extra healthcare workers for a maximum period of three months to help in the fight against the outbreak.

However, the money would only be used upon submission of operational plans by February 6, 2023 which would be assessed and validated by NLGFC, the letter states.

“In this context, you are requested to submit without further delay, an operational plan for utilising the balances of Covid-19 ORT funds to date, on cholera control activities along the lines of the prioritised activities,” reads the letter to councils signed by NLGFC Executive Director Kondwani Santhe.

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Santhe says the money will also be used for once-off clearing of water bills and reopening of water kiosks in high-risk peri-urban areas.

Co-chairperson of the Taskforce on Covid and Cholera Wilson Chalamila Nkhoma said they are happy that the Ministry of Finance has acted quickly on their proposal.

“We did not have separate money from the government for addressing the outbreak at the level councils would want. But at the same time, there was money given to the councils to fight Covid which is still available in the councils.

“Now the money is controlled by the councils, so we noted that this will be an opportunity for the councils to start putting up activities to fight the outbreak,” Chalamila Nkhoma said.

Health rights activist George Jobe said in an interview Wednesday that health facilities are “very constrained in both human and financial resources; hence, the waiver has come at the right time”.

“At the same time, we don’t know the total amount these councils have, so it very important that Treasury should look at the amounts each council has so that if they are not adequate, more allocations should be made,” Jobe said.

In 2020, local councils collectively received K1.38 billion for Covid response thorough the Department of Disaster Management Affairs.

This was part of the K6.2 billion package that the government released towards the fight against Covid but was reportedly severely abused, according to an investigation by the National Audit Office.

As of Tuesday, Malawi had recorded at least 1,002 cholera-related deaths out of the 30,621 officially confirmed cases

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