The current Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is undoubtedly one of the most active and prolific oversight committees of Parliament.
Over the past six months alone, for example, PAC has had encounters with over eight Ministries, Departments and agencies (MDAs) and other public institutions and raised some critical accountability issues with them.
Some of the MDAs that have appeared before PAC include the Reserve Bank of Malawi for allowing the Export Development Fund to operate for nine months without a licence; the Malawi Electoral Commission for regularizing a fraudulent supply of sleeveless jackets worth K174 million in the 2013/14 financial year; the Anti-Corruption Bureau over an audit report which faulted the graft-busting body for acquiring assets worth about K147 million but which are not recorded in the organisation’s fixed assets register.
PAC has also questioned the Ministry of Mining for not tracking and recording huge volumes of minerals produced in the country and not matching them with royalties paid to government. The Parliamentary committee has also put to task the Ministry of Health to explain audit queries on a K645 million external referral bill.
Other MDAs that have come under PAC’s radar are Nocma—to explain fuel procurement deals; and the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 which PAC ordered to reclaim undeserved allowance payouts and other payments. All told, PAC’s performance has been splendid and cannot go unnoticed.
But from the agenda the oversight committee is now giving itself, most of the above activities look like they are just the low-hanging fruits. The committee seems to have set its sights on older projects such as the sale of the Presidential Jet in 2013. PAC’s chairperson Shadric Namalomba says the country is still in the dark on whether or not the jet was disposed off in good faith and hence the need for a public inquiry to establish what exactly happened or if some people unfairly benefitted from it. You cannot fault this.
But since the jet was sold over eight years ago, one would expect PAC to be more systematic and structured in its approach to such probes. For example, against the many issues spanning a period of nine years still begging answers, why the presidential jet? Isn’t this cherry-picking? Shouldn’t a more logical starting point be a probe into the former president Bingu wa Mutharika’s unexplained K61 billion wealth? Or the unconcluded 2009—2014 Capital Hill Cashgate scandal—the financial scandal involving looting, theft and corruption of government money part of which was uncovered under the then President Joyce Banda part of which was investigated by UK forensic audit firm Baker Tilly.
All told, for the six month period (from April to September 2013 that Baker Tilly reviewed), the audit found an estimated K24 billion ($32 million) was stolen. The result of that audit is that more than 70 people were arrested in connection to the looting, many of whom have been tried and convicted.
In November 2014, it became increasingly clear that the Cashgate-related corruption extended beyond the term of the Baker Tilly’s audit. The German government then initiated another audit to review potential theft dating back to 2009, under then President Bingu wa Mutharika.
This audit—covering 2009 to 2014—revealed that a dizzying K235 billion was looted from Account Number One. But the new administration kept the results of this audit under wraps. This is the money—10 times more than the theft uncovered during the six month period in 2013—that PAC should also have been salivating for? Like the proceeds from the presidential jet, Malawians are in the dark about who stole the K235 billion. The double blow to the taxpayer is that apart from the K235 billion heist, several donor countries stopped providing direct budget support to Malawi.
As for the K61 billion wealth Bingu accumulated in just eight years after declaring his assets at K150 million in 2004, there are reports he held bank accounts and property in three other countries. PAC should actually have started with an inquiry into how the former president amassed all this wealth from 2004 to 2012.
But if that is too difficult for it, at the minimum PAC should fight for an inquiry to establish if Bingu’s family paid tax on this wealth it inherited. If PAC will not be interested in any of these, its current enthusiasm in the presidential jet will be adjudged political.
In summary, PAC has started a good job of making public entities and people, particularly leaders, account for their activities. It should finish it.