The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament says it has noted serious capacity gaps in the management of taxpayers’ money in local authorities which is leading to abuse.
PAC’s call comes on the back of reported cases of abuse of taxpayers’ money in a number of councils and substandard projects such as roads and bridges.
In an interview on Thursday in Lilongwe, PAC chairperson Shadric Namalomba called for total reforms and capacity building for local structures that directly handle taxpayers’ money to seal the gaps.
He said the decentralisation of resources from central government to local authorities did not consider apacity of the people entrusted with the money.
Namalomba said there are long-standing challenges in the handling of money, resulting in PAC uncovering glaring abuse when doing budget tracking using reports produced by the National Audit Office.
“What we want to see as PAC are comprehensive reforms. We should capacitate councils with well-trained personnel to deal with financial management chaos,” he said.
Namalomba proposed that district commissioners, who are controlling officers at council level, should be appointed by the councils themselves to hold them accountable for financial abuses.
In a written reaction, Ministry of Finance spokesperson Williams Banda acknowledged some capacity gaps in local councils, but said government is working to address the gaps.
“Local Government Service Commission is looking into this together with other government institutions,” he said.
Economist Milward Tobias, who is also executive director of Centre for Research and Consultancy, said there has not been a corresponding investment in human resources in local councils.
“In my view, the challenge is a weak accountability system. There is poor document management, delayed or no liquidation reports and poor management of funds,” he said.
In a 2015 report, Tilitonse Fund noted that there are fraud and accountability queries in local councils most of which are failing to produce comprehensive expenditure reports following increased funding.
Titeld Political Economy Analysis of Accountability in Government Councils, the report noted that councils are faced with numerous queries bordering on fraud and limited accountability of resources obtained from central government.
Reads the report in part: “There is limited production of financial reports and attention to audit reports, abuse of locally generated revenues and politicised intra-district allocation of development resources.”
The report said these practices have been prevalent due to weak external oversight mechanisms and a fledgling council oversight system, among others.