Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) scrutiny of Malawi Government financial reports for 2014/15 yesterday exposed more rot, pointing to abuse of public funds for officers’ personal gains.
During a review of audit queries for the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs for 2014/15 financial year, the first year of President Peter Mutharika and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) rule, PAC observed missing payment vouchers worth K2.4 million.
The audit also showed that the ministry exceeded budget lines with K25.4 million whereas “unreasonable” payment of subsistence allowances was pegged at K2.5 million and failure to provide for activity reports for subsistence allowance amounted to K1.8 million.
The questionable transactions, including “unreasonable” payment of allowances at the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, raised concerns among the members who questioned the justification for an officer to claim seven nights for travelling from Lilongwe to Kasungu just to deliver mail.
PAC vice-chairperson Kamlepo Kalua, who chaired the proceedings, said: “How can one spend seven nights from Lilongwe to Kasungu, just to deliver mail? What sort of transport were they using to justify this? Are we serious to suggest that travelling from Lilongwe to Kasungu can take one week? This is not on. You are lucky we [PAC] don’t have powers to detain you, but this is sickening.”
Responding to the concern, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs director of administration George Masinga, who represented the ministry’s controlling officer, apologised to PAC for the anomalies and expressed his regrets.
He said: “I regret that the payment for K2.4 million was not produced during the time of the audit due to poor record keeping. However, the ministry managed to trace the voucher and its supporting documents.”
On the payment of seven nights for an officer to deliver mail to Kasungu, Masinga said some activities at the Administrator General’s office include delivery of mail which messengers were sent to undertake. He said due to some problems such as transport, they travelled with other officers, a situation that meant spending more time than necessary; hence, giving one reason to fill the out-of-duty station forms.
Commenting on the developments, Auditor General Stevenson Kamphasa said the explanation on why an officer could spend a week delivering mail in Kasungu was not convincing.
He said: “The explanation is not addressing the query of why delivery of mail to Kasungu could take seven days and also why some of the reasons on the forms could just indicate official duties without specifics, yet the space was enough to accommodate several reasons.”
PAC has since called for action, including prosecution and arrest, of public officers if things will continue the way they are.
Kalua observed that even though they have started reviewing audits for the recent years after Cashgate, public resources are still being plundered and those involved in the malpractice are left scot-free or just being transferred to other departments.
He said: “It is sad that all the controlling officers continue saying they regret what happened to the missing payments and misallocation of funds; why is this so? What is being done to bring these people to book? Seriously speaking, Cashgate is continuing.”
The shooting of former Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo outside the gate of his Area 43 residence in Lilongwe on the night of September 13 2013 is widely believed to have exposed revelations about the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill, widely known as Cashgate.
Former president Joyce Banda, who ascended to the presidency on April 7 2012 in line with constitutional order following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika, ordered a forensic audit which British firm Baker Tilly undertook covering a randomly chosen period of six months, between April and September 2013.
The Baker Tilly audit established that about K24 billion was siphoned from public coffers through dubious payments, inflated invoices and goods or services never rendered.
In 2015, a financial analysis report by audit and business advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) also established that about K577 billion in public funds could not be reconciled between 2009 and December 31 2014. The K577 billion figure was later revised downwards to K236 billion in another forensic audit. n