At a time when the Capital Hill cashgate, in which billions of taxpayers’ money were lost, is still haunting Malawians, there are revelations that some members of Parliament in Salima have been abusing the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
Weekend Nation investigations have revealed that the legislators were conniving with some officers at the council to create ghost projects with an aim of siphoning money from the fund.
In Salima Central Constituency, whose MP is Democratic Progressive Party’s Benjamin Mangira, it has been discovered that two non-existing projects earmarked for Msinda Primary School got payments from the council last year.
A 2012/13 CDF implementation report in our possession indicates that the council issued payments of K175 000 through cheque number 2663 on January 28 2013 to T Chikupira Contractors and K195 000 to O. Chimwala Building Contractors on July 12 2013 through cheque number 7986 as labour charges.
Both contractors, according to the documents, do not exist and that there was no project taking place at the school.
Another payment of K165 000 through cheque number 2662 was effected to another ghost contractor, F. Kapichila, on January 28 2013 as labour charge for renovating a teacher’s house at Chikuluti Primary School in the same constituency.
Through cheque number 4790, ghost company K. Milliam Building Contractors was paid K116 400 on August, 29 2013 for work allegedly done at the constituency’s Naluva Primary School, according to the documents.
In Salima North West Constituency, whose MP is DPP’s Delia Kankhwani, a payment of K318 000 through cheque number 2641 was made to non-existing J. Misias Building Contractors for a ghost project at Katete Primary School.
The report also shows that apart from payments made to the ghost projects, materials bought for various projects were not reaching the intended construction sites.
For example, the report says out of 70 bags of cement bought at K220 000 through cheque number 2364 meant for a teacher’s house project at Chimbwira Primary School in Salima South Constituency belonging to People’s Party vice-president Uladi Mussa, only 30 reached the school.
In Kankhwani’s Salima North West Constituency, 52 iron sheets purchased through cheque number 7500 for a teacher’s house at Kalembo Primary School did not reach the site.
In an interview, legislator Mangira confirmed to have accessed some of the funds, but said the money was not abused because it was diverted to sponsor a football trophy in the constituency.
“I know of such projects, but I didn’t mean to abuse the money,” said Mangira. “I wanted to sponsor a football tournament and I was encouraged by an official at the district council [who said he could] assist me create ghost projects for us to have access to the money and later use it for the trophy.”
Mangira, who is a member of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, said he did not know the contractors as the task of identifying them was in the hands of the council’s officials.
On her part, Kankhwani said she was aware of the matter, but was quick to distance herself from the scam, claiming she is not behind any payment to ghost contractors.
Kankhwani accused officials at the Salima District Council of siphoning the money meant for her constituency.
Salima district commissioner Charles Kalemba in an interview also confirmed knowledge of the issue, adding that strict measures were being taken against those involved in the swindling of the funds, whose payments were made through the ghost contractors’ accounts
Kalemba said investigations were still underway and that so far, apart from asking the concerned MPs to submit reports relating to the use of CDF, the council has suspended two officers—building supervisor Henry Habire and accounts assistant Lovemore Mtotera.
Said Kalemba: “Yes it is true and very true. There has been siphoning of money under Constituency Development Fund through the creation of ghost projects, contractors and payments.”
“My office is putting a closer eye on that and I can assure the nation that as council, we have currently suspended two officers suspected to have been behind the malpractice and more suspension will follow soon,” he said.
The two suspended officers could not be reached for their side of the story as they were reportedly out of Salima.