When a British firm of auditors Baker Tilly revealed that between April and September 2013 about K24 billion had been siphoned from Malawi Government coffers, most Malawians felt distressed. The findings by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) that between January 2009 and December 2014 K577 billion had not been properly accounted for has made the nation of Malawi feel disgraced as well.
A person who is unable to exert self-control and lays his hands on other people’s property will soon be controlled by others. The other people will, if they are law-abiding enough, take the offender to the police and then to court where he might receive a prison sentence. In this way, he that could not control himself has been controlled by others.
Similarly, if a nation handles its affairs in such as way that other nations suffer, they will take measures to restrict its sovereignty. Hence we learn that other nations have joined the Federal Republic of Germany in hiring a firm of auditors to find out how their grants to Malawi Government have been utilised. In other words, Malawian public servants have lost the confidence of both donor governments and articulate Malawians.
African leaders have often expressed disapproval of assistance from donors which has strings attached. The leaders have wished to be left free to run their affairs without being lectured about good governance, accountability and so on.
We, ordinarily, should be wary of siding with our leaders on these matters. Leaders and bureaucrats in Africa have not always been exemplary in exercising their responsibilities. Why should public officials and politicians who defraud their own people on grand scale be shielded from probing by foreign countries which have given African governments so much financial and technical assistance?
The admonition by head of departments by Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development in handling public funds needs to be supplemented by an overhauling of the civil service as well as the relationship between the Ministry of Finance and the banking system.
In most payments systems, a junior employee may purchase stationary worth a limited amount without seeking prior approval of his or her superior. Procurements worth bigger amounts require direct approval by a senior official who ensures that the goods for which the money is paid have been delivered to the store house, inspected by departmental experts and he himself has seen them.
In the Cashgate saga, we learn that cheques worth millions of kwacha were paid for undelivered goods or unrendered services. Why are cheques worth millions of kwacha not counter-signed by heads of department? What does it mean to be a controller of departmental budgets if subordinate officials are given unlimited discretion over public funds and expenditure?
At my bank, I have noticed that if you present a cheque less than K100 000, the teller will pay it provided there are enough funds in your account. If the cheque is worth more than a K100 000, the teller first takes it to the branch manager who then checks to see if the person named on the cheque is indeed the one at the counter. Possibly, the branch manager counter-signs the cheque and only then it is paid.
Why are bank managers not suspicious or inquisitive enough when cheques worth millions of kwacha are presented by a person not known to the banks as millionaires? Should they not check with heads of departments to find out if they are aware of the cheques or, better still ask the heads to endorse the big cheques?
If the Cashgate scandal is not to be repeated in the foreseeable future, the structure of the public service as well as its appointment system should be reformed. Parliament should propose to government that World Bank should assist in funding a body of foreign experts in public administration. These people should come and identify the weaknesses which have facilitated financial losses. Even when a doctor has cured you of a disease it is better you find out how you get it.
A team of advisers should also come and examine how appointments in public service are made. It seems there are birds of the same feather that flock together. In robbing public coffers, the rogues say: “If you are silent about what I do, I will also be silent about what you do.”
What retards the development of Malawi? Several factors, not just one. People who steal billions of kwacha to build bungalows in cities or to purchase luxury cars are damaging the economy. It is more conducive to the development of the country if such funds are used to subsidise agricultural or industrials production to provide curative and educational activities. This amounts to what is known as capital formation. It is investment.