Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has sent on forced leave its director of finance Khumbo Phiri in the wake of an investigative audit that revealed gross financial mismanagement between July 2012 and December 2014 as recently exposed by our sister newspaper, Weekend Nation.
The audit was conducted by the Central Internal Audit Unit under the Ministry of Finance following allegations of financial misconduct and fraud in the procurement and recruitment procedures by the institution’s top management.
In communication The Nation has seen, MEC management is faulting Phiri for allegedly lacking
leadership in the directorate of finance to discharge its functions accordingly and as required by law as well as international accounting standards.
Phiri has been suspended pending a disciplinary hearing, according to a letter dated October 6 2015 titled Disciplinary Hearing signed by MEC deputy chief executive officer (CEO) Lellie Brian Longwe.
Allegations levelled against Phiri include failure to provide leadership to finance directorate, failure to obey instructions and failure to perform his duties competently.
Reads the letter in part: “Meanwhile, we ask you to proceed on leave from today [October 6th] pending the disciplinary hearing which will be expedited.
“Following this unacceptable performance, the commission will constitute a disciplinary panel shortly to enable you to defend yourself against these charges.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Phiri confirmed about his forced leave, but was quick to express surprise at the decision taken by the commission.
He said: “My reaction is that of surprise. Surprise because the letter cites the findings of the audit regarding weaknesses in finance department as the reasons for the suspension. However, the auditors are very clear in their findings.
“I have not been mentioned anywhere in the report except where they are stating the people who were present in the exit meeting. It would appear to me that someone is really trying very hard to conceal the real findings of the auditors which are clearly and unequivocally stated and instead trying to divert attention towards me.”
Phiri said the weaknesses in his department were inherent fundamental changes which included transferring of all staff in the department to other sections before employing current staff who are “new and learning on the job”.
He said: “All these matters were reported to management and they are aware or ought to have been aware of these facts.”
MEC director of media and public relations Sangwani Mwafulira was yet to respond to The Nation’s questionnaire on the issue as we went to press last evening.
The accounts staff were relocated from the finance department to other sections in April 2012 and replaced by government (civil servants). The new employees were recruited in February 2014.
In an earlier letter to Phiri, the commission confessed that the issues exposed by the investigative audit report had serious bearing on the performance and integrity of the commission.
According to the executive summary of the audit report, MEC top management misused or failed to satisfactorily explain how about K1.5 billion ($2,727,272) was used on several activities.
Among the several queries include payments CEO Willie Kalonga paid to himself amounting to K2.2 million ($4000) for a personal trip to his private study graduation without the approval of the commission.
However, the audit report has recommended that the commission should be made answerable at least to Parliament on the use of the taxpayers money. n