Excessive loans, suspicious profits from sale of declared assets without supporting documents and verifiable track record, are among the red flags that the first phase of the verification exercise of assets has revealed.
Director of Public Officers Declaration, Christopher Tukula, said in an interview on Thursday the sale of declared assets whose buyers or sellers cannot be easily traced as well as assets acquired at declared below market conditions, could be a sham.
Tukula added that there are also a high number of empty spaces left blank on the declaration form by officers raising suspicions that this could be a way of concealing wealth.
“We will report all fraudulent or dishonest declarations to the ACB or the Director of Public Prosecutions for criminal prosecution. Upon conviction, this offence is liable to a punishment of two years imprisonment and a K500 000 fine,” said Tukula.
“Those found in the wrong risk dismissal or imprisonment,” he added.
He said an officer may be dismissed from the public service, and for MPs, they may have their political seats declared vacant and get banned from subsequent participation in elections.
The first phase of the exercise, which commenced on November 1 2017 and runs for three months, is targeting 250 public officers, including all those who served as Cabinet ministers from 2014 to date, members of Parliament (MPs), President Peter Mutharika and Vice-President Saulosi Chilima.
Tukula explained that former and serving Cabinet ministers are being targeted as a response to a public scrutiny analysis that his office undertook, which shows that most people are interested in accessing declarations from this category.
Currently, the directorate has 11 600 declarations in its database, with the number fluctuating due to deaths, retirements, recruitments, promotions, resignations and dismissals.
He said: “Our investigative random lifestyle checks against the seemingly correct data as cross-checked with various registries such as Malawi Housing Corporation on some public officers, reveals that there are also more complex cases where illegal income may be indirectly hidden in real estate by swapping with lavish daily subsistence from legitimate income.”
But Tukula was quick to point out that in order to promote transparency and accountability; the concerned officers will have to give their side of the story before a final position is made by the directorate.
At the end of the exercise, the directorate is mandated to recommend sanctions for all officers proven to have declared dishonestly to face administrative sanctions or criminal prosecution.
Tukula said one challenge affecting the directorate’s work is the prevailing freeze on recruitments in government as a means of wage bill controls, and according to him, they still have few staff to handle the challenging tasks, which is making progress slow.
“We are hopeful that our special request for a waiver to recruit will be acceded to during the financial year to help us speed up the process,” he said.
Meanwhile, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Timothy Mtambo, has emphasised the need to empower the office of public officer’s declarations both financially and by giving it necessary expertise so that it delivers as per its mission.
Parliamentary committee on Public Appointments chairperson Lingston Belekanyama observed that the declaration of assets has already started bearing fruit, saying the ACB and the office of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) are now able to get crucial information from the directorate.
Said Belekanyama: “For instance, people know that my salary is K500 000 and from nowhere without making any declaration or source of funding I end up purchasing a K49 million vehicle, people are likely to question. That is why it is important to keep updating the information every year.”
Mutharika declared that he had about $10 million in commercial banks in Malawi and the United States of America. He declared that he has about $1.7 million in a local bank and a fleet of nine vehicles bought between 2001 and 2014.
Chilima, on the other hand, declared five farms, several plots, houses and insurance policies.
The Vice-President also declared several bank accounts, holding about K8 million. He said he jointly held the bank accounts with his wife, Mary.
Former president Joyce Banda declared about $14 000 deposited at a US bank, about 240 000 South African rand and $4 705 deposited at the National Bank of Malawi (NBM).
She also declared ownership of 63 vehicles, most of which she donated to the People’s Party (PP), the party she founded and is its president.
Banda also declared businesses, including her Joyce Banda Foundation school, which she valued at $270 000.
Malawi Congress Party president Lazarus Chakwera declared four houses, six vehicles and six bank accounts, including one in the US, holding $14 000. He also said he had 10 bank accounts jointly held with family members. n