If government were a private entity, it would be declared bankrupt because normal civil service operations have virtually ground to halt due to lack of funding as a result of the Cashgate and resultant donor aid withdrawal.
Some senior civil servants have confided in us that things have reached pathetic levels where offices are failing to even buy stationery and fuel for local running.
“If it were a private company, government could have by now been declared bankrupt,” said a source at Capital Hill. “There is no better word to describe the situation, it’s just terrible. We cannot do anything because there is nothing.”
“But since government cannot close shop, that is why we still come to the office to do nothing. Funding has been reduced to levels that have suffocated daily operations,” said a senior civil servant.
Another senior civil servant at Capital Hill in Lilongwe, whose work involves travelling for fieldwork, said since the advent of Cashgate, that has virtually stopped.
The Ministry of Finance has attributed the situation to the effect of reduced funding as a result of the impact of the looting of public financial resources at Capital Hill which has resulted in donors withholding budgetary support.
Another senior civil servant described the situation as chaotic, saying government business has been heavily compromised due to lack of financial resources as a result of donor aid freeze.
“It is a known fact that the situation is chaotic and the reasons are known to everybody. It is no longer a secret that government has no resources to support its operations fully. Unfortunately, it is becoming hopeless,” said the senior official.
“It has reached a point where even some principal secretaries use personal money to buy stationery for the office. It is unlikely that donors will unfreeze aid and this is very worrisome because there is no hope that things will improve any time soon,” said the source.
A senior official said most government offices are lacking basic facilities such as stationery and fuel to the point that some departments are, for example, printing from private bureaus.
“As I speak, most of the ministries and departments have no fuel, no stationery to the extent that you cannot even print a memo. If it is urgent, you just have to go to a private cafe to print; otherwise, we cannot afford tonner. There is no money in government,” said a senior government official.
“We are even hearing that government is considering sending civil servants on a three-week holiday during Easter period just to save on other daily costs, but whether that is any significant, we are yet to see,” said the source.
But Office of President and Cabinet spokesperson Arthur Chipenda assured in a questionnaire response that government does not intend to send civil servants on a three-week holiday during Easter.
“Civil Servants will during Easter observe the normal public holidays of Good Friday and Easter Monday only,” said Chipenda.
Treasury spokesperson Nations Msowoya confirmed on Monday that the situation has not improved since a decision was taken to reduce funding to ministries and departments following donor aid freeze.
Secretary to Treasury Newby Kumwembe told the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament in Lilongwe in December last year that although the revised national budget had risen by K4.5 billion from K640. 3 billion to K635.8 billion, government had trimmed by K32 billion funding to its ministries, departments and agencies meant for recurrent and development expenditure in the wake of the Capital Hill Cashgate.
Said Msowoya: “The reduced funding is partly because of the Cashgate which has also forced development partners to delay their budget support funding. As a result of this double effect of the Cashgate and delayed budget support, we have been left with no option but to reduce funding to ministries and departments.”
“If we can get some budget support from our development partners this month, it means the situation can improve. Otherwise, it should be next financial year when things can improve when we draw the new budget,” he said.
Weekend Nation also quoted Msowoya three weeks ago as having said there was nothing that government could do about the financial woes at the moment.
“Yes, we do get feedback from some government departments that they are having difficulties because of the inadequate funding, but the problem is we do not have money. So this will be the case up to the end of this financial year, there is little we can do,” Msoyowa said.
Msowoya said the situation has worsened because government departments also had arrears to settle with suppliers.
On her part, National Police spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo, without wanting to comment on specifics, is on record as saying just like any government ministry or department, the police is equally affected by low levels of funding.
But Benedicto Kondowe, a human rights activist, said the status quo suggests failure on the part of the current administration to steer public service and the entire nation in the right direction.
Said Kondowe: “It vindicates not only lack of stewardship for public resources but also government’s reasoned judgment in underestimating the impact of Cashgate. It portrays policy lapses and lack of strategic leadership to manage the State affairs.”
“It further puts to question moral responsibility on the part of President that she could afford to publicly declare not to stop her unlimited travels at the expenses of poor Malawians. This is a complete signal of upside-down policies not befitting a caring government,” he said.
Kondowe said the “bankruptcy” suggests that the Cashgate has had entrenched negative impact contrary to the picture that the Joyce Banda administration had painted.
With the elections on May 20, he said, the new government will find nothing in the coffers and would be forced to make tough fiscal measures.
“The impact of this bankruptcy is that public service delivery is likely to collapse. Economically, the bankruptcy could lead to more borrowing which would then lead to high debts. The situation at hand has the potential to scare investors and stifle further donor confidence,” he said.
President Banda has on several occasion repeatedly snubbed calls from the civil society groups and other quarters to slow down on her non-stop local and international trips, and has always argued that the people she serves are those living in the villages.
She travels with a huge entourage that include Cabinet ministers, police, Army and party officials, among other dignitaries, that millions are blown in allowances and fuel, among other expenses.