President Lazarus Chakwera has backed former minister of Labour Ken Kandodo, whom he fired from Cabinet on April 18 for abuse of Covid-19 funds, saying he was misled by officials in his ministry.
Speaking on Friday when he stopped in Kasungu on his way to the North, the President said he personally discussed the matter with Kandodo when he learnt that some officials from the ministry misled him.
Kandodo, who is also Malawi Congress Party Kasungu Central Constituency legislator, was dismissed from Cabinet after he was implicated in
the K6.2 billion investigative audit on Covid-19 Response Funds.
The audit report indicated that Kandodo pocketed K613 000, in allowances for a foreign trip, from money that was meant for Covid-19 response programmes.
But speaking in his address, Chakwera blamed Kandodo’s dismissal on some government officers and warned officers that are bent on frustrating others in the civil service that the Tonse administration will not tolerate them.
He said: “The money that was used [by Kandodo] was actually repaid to the ministry. Sometimes in our offices we have officials who don’t say the truth.
“Even the President himself has people who tell him lies. Some may even plot for your downfall.”
But the President’s sentiments were in sharp contrast with what he said on April 18 when announcing Kandodo’s dismissal from Cabinet.
Said Chakwera at the time: “As for the Minister of Labour, who was named by the audit report as having spent Covid-19 funds amounting to K613 000 on his allowances for a foreign trip, I have dropped him from my Cabinet accordingly.
“Even though the minister has since returned the money, his usage of the funds means that the money was unavailable for its intended purpose when it was needed most. And I cannot have in my Cabinet any individual who spends money budgeted for one thing on something else or do not ask tough questions to ensure that the money they are spending on something was budgeted for that purpose”
But in an interview yesterday, presidential press secretary Brian Banda argued that the President never commented on Kandodo’s guilt or innocence.
“Rather, he was stating that he [Chakwera] is aware that there were other officials who were complicit in the misappropriation, whose complicity will also be accounted for,” he said.
Meanwhile, political analysts have faulted the President for the sentiments on Kandodo.
Reacting to Chakwera’s remarks yesterday in a telephone interview, University of Malawi’s political science lecturer Joseph Chunga said the President ought to be faulted for firing Kandodo without first verifying facts.
He said: “The President may be faulted on why he went ahead to make the decision in the first place before finding out from all relevant officials. The reasoning was illogical considering the functionality of ministries where technocrats are involved, unless the minister himself gave instructions on the funds.”
Chunga said in an ideal situation, controlling officers like principal secretaries should be held accountable since ministers do not take part in the day-to-day running of ministries.
In a separate interview, another political analyst Ernest Thindwa said if Chakwera’s sentiments were an indication that he is considering on reinstating Kandodo, it would be construed as a signal for a retreat from the war against corruption.
He said the President should be better advised that short-term political considerations should be subordinated to the greater good for it is the latter that tends to enhance sustained broad-based support among the diverse and largely partisan citizens.
According to the K6.2 billion audit report, the minister alongside another technocrat from his ministry, used the Covid-19 funds for allowances when they travelled to South Africa last year with the President.
Findings of the investigative audit into the expenditure of K6.2 billion Covid-19 Response Funds exposed loopholes in public finance management that drained K720 million through procurement flaws, irregular allowances, dubious claims and poor planning.
Key findings of the audit Chakwera ordered the National Audit Office to undertake on February 14 2021 amid a public outcry over alleged mismanagement, among others, indicate that procurement flaws accounted for the highest cost at K493.9 million.
The Malawi Police Service has since arrested a number of officials that were implicated in the audit report.