As efforts to unravel the looting at Capital Hill continues, the Army and Police on Friday mounted an operation in Lilongwe to ” clear the city of looters and thieves.”
Deputy spokesperson for Malawi Police Service, Kelvin Maigwa, says the intensified police search is as a result of the recent money mismanagement at Capital Hill.
“This is a joint operation between the police and the Malawi Defence Force. We want to clear the city of looters and thieves. As police we have the powers to search anywhere, anytime and wherever we want to make sure there is law and sanity in this country and this is exactly what we are doing. It’s a normal operation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chief Secretary to Government Hawa Ndilowe on Friday rebuffed the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament which summoned her to address it on the looting of public funds at Capital Hill.
But Ndilowe delegated her Principal Secretary for Finance in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) Joster Njanji, director of finance Jean Munyenyembe and Accountant General’s principal accountant Dorothy Machira to respond to the committee’s queries.
Njanji conveyed Ndilowe’s apologies that she had failed to appear before the committee because she was attending to other issues.
He said the Chief Secretary failed to send a written apology to the committee because she got communication from Parliament about the meeting late afternoon on Thursday; sentiments which PAC vice-chairperson Daveson Nyadani said were untrue.
Nyadani said the committee summoned the Chief Secretary to also respond to audit queries several weeks ago and that the Thursday communication was just to inform her that she should also expect questions on the current cash looting crisis and suspension of the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis) at Capital Hill.
“What I brought yesterday [Thursday] is not an invitation letter. There was already a formal invitation for her to appear before this committee. Definitely, this is not making sense. To overlook this committee and arrange other meetings is unacceptable,” said Nyadani.
Several members of the committee including Henry Mussa, Lingson Belekanyama, Lifred Nawena and John Zingale also expressed unhappiness with Ndilowe’s failure to appear before it, saying they could not discuss the current crisis in government with the Chief Secretary’s subordinates.
“This is the most important meeting taking into consideration that the issue at hand is of paramount importance. She cannot be sending directors because this committee does not deal with directors,” said Zingale.
Mussa said: “The law is very clear on this one that PAC is supposed to meet the Chief Secretary. There is precedence already because we have met other previous Chief Secretaries. I propose that we adjourn until she is available to meet this committee. It’s the Chief Secretary whom we would like to deal with looking at the business before us.”
Nawena claimed this was the second time Ndilowe has snubbed the committee, saying she delegated Deputy Chief Secretary Willie Samute the first time she was summoned to respond to audit queries.
“Last time she said she had gone to a presidential function. Today she says she is attending to other business. Out of respect for her office, let’s call off this meeting and meet her when it is convenient for her,” he said.
Belekanyama said: “The Chief Secretary is supposed to be exemplary. The moment we allow her to defy this committee, all controlling officers will follow suit. She should not be allowed to defy this committee.”
Ndilowe could not be reached on her phone on Friday.
In another development commercial banks from Wednesday this week have been refusing to cash several government cheques in the wake of financial maladministration at Capital Hill.
At least three suppliers, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, said the situation at Capital Hill has negatively affected innocent business people who had offered genuine services and need to be paid by government.
“We can’t cash our cheques and yet we delivered the required services long time ago,” said one supplier who deals in computers.
But on Thursday, we established that commercial banks’ action follow specific instructions from the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) not to honour all government cheques bearing the signature of one Roosevelt Ndovi.
Ndovi, principal accountant and signatory to government cheques, was arrested on Tuesday by the gates of Capital Hill when police allegedly found K3 million in his car boot.
A further search at his home in Area 25, allegedly recovered $25 400 (about K10 million) and he could not explain its source.
In an interview yesterday, RBM spokesperson Mbane Ngwira said “normally such instructions would come from the Accountant General to commercial banks” as the bank did not issue such instructions.
“I am sure it’s the Accountant General trying to ensure that those cheques signed before these incidents are cleared properly,” he said.
But a check with commercial banks’ sources revealed there was communication on Wednesday to all banks that all cheques with Ndovi’s signature be referred back to Accountant General.
The RBM even provided specimen of Ndovi’s signatures to ensure banks do not make mistakes.
In an interview yesterday, Ministry of Finance public relations officer Nations Msowoya said “anyone affected should go back to Accountant General for cheque replacement.”
“I am sure that that is a standard practice because Mr. Ndovi is under investigation and until he is cleared, those cheques have to be re-checked and have someone counter sign,” he said.
According to RBM, that could be a way of cleaning up in case some cheques were issued based on fake supplies as it has been reported by the media in the recent past.
In the past fortnight, police have arrested a number of people suspected of pocketing millions of government money for services that were never rendered.
On the list are serving or interdicted civil servants mostly from accounts departments.