Malawi President Peter Mutharika has directed that all ministries and government departments be audited with immediate effect.
The directive follows an exposure in Weekend Nation three weeks ago of financial malfeasance and ghost workers in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.
Presidential press secretary Gerald Viola said on Wednesday Mutharika was shocked by the level of fraud in the ministry as revealed by the audit report we quoted.
“The President was horrified at the level of fraud in the ministry, hence the directive to have all ministries and government departments audited.
“Ghost workers, through the work of computers, have been getting salaries when people are suffering in the rural areas and cannot get jobs,” lamented Viola.
Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet, George Mkondiwa, said government has already started investigating all government ministries and departments following exposure of the plunder in the audit initiated by principal secretary for Agriculture, Erica Maganga.
“The exercise has started. It may seem to be small, but it may have to be progressive. We would want to dispense with this issue,” Mkondiwa said.
National Audit Office spokesperson Lawrence Chinkhunda indicated that the office has formed a steering committee to strategise the modalities of carrying out the audit “considering its magnitude”.
The overall cost, Chinkhunda said, was initially pegged at K100 million, but indicated that “it may soar to much higher levels as the exercise will cover several institutions”.
Chinkhunda said a multi-donor trust fund, the Financial Reporting and Oversight Improvement Project, has already committed to financing part of the exercise.
He said government was yet to establish where it would source the extra funding for the exercise.
“Originally, the plan was to carry out the exercise as a normal audit in two phases covering 10 ministries, departments and agencies. The first phase was to take about one and a half months which has been achieved and the second phase was expected to take about three to four months of headcount.
“But due to change of events and scope, we have gone back to the drawing board to re-plan, taking into consideration all new developments which shall require a wider coverage as directed although we have not been officially advised.
“We believe the resources will be available to carry out the work and have every hope that Treasury shall provide funds for the exercise as resources is our main challenge now,” Chinkhunda said.
Ministry of Finance public relations officer, Nations Msowoya, refused to comment on the matter, saying his ministry was among those to be audited.
“The exercise is a good initiative, but it also affects my ministry. Therefore, I would only comment as the audit progresses,” he said.
The Ministry of Agriculture fraud occurred between 2012 and 2014, according to an investigative audit report by the Central Internal Audit (CIA).
Among other things, the report exposed how the ministry lost K131.2 million (US$291 556) to accounts personnel inflating individual salaries; K25 million (US$55 556) to paying arrears no one claimed; K6.5 million (US$14 444) to recurring arrears and at least K1 million to suspected ghost workers.
The auditors suspect collusion among staff in human resources, PPPI [Payroll Pensions Processing Information Systems] and salary sections at the ministry’s headquarters in Lilongwe, some research stations and agriculture development divisions (ADDs) where the alleged malpractices were noted.
The unscrupulous staff are suspected to have manipulated data in government’s system network to bloat salaries on the payroll and get salary arrears that were not claimed.