After a job Ã¢â‚¬Å“well doneÃ¢â‚¬Â during the July 20-21 anti-government demonstrations, he smiled all the way to the bank to cash K120 000 (about $718) as a token of appreciation from government.
Five months down the road, the officer, who earns K15 000 (about $90) a month, has to pay back K60 000 (about $360) because Ã¢â‚¬Å“it was wrongly depositedÃ¢â‚¬Â into his bank account. The reward was supposed to be K60 000, according to senior officials in the Malawi Police Service (MPS).
The law enforcer, who did not want to be named for fear of facing disciplinary action, says it is surprising since he did not solicit for the money and that he was convinced the amount covering the two days of unprecedented operation in his career.
The story of the Limbe police officer is shared by several who were interviewed randomly after auditors from National Police Headquarters in MalawiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s capital, Lilongwe, visited the station on Friday demanding that those who received more than K60 000 should sign commitment forms to refund the money.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is a shock to me and most of my colleagues because this is the money I did not ask for and it just came into my bank account after I was asked to submit my name and bank details like everybody else.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We were surprised when officers from our headquarters came to our station and asked us to write reports stating that we are willing to pay back the money and that they will deduct that money within one year,Ã¢â‚¬Â said the frustrated constable.
He said it was a pity that most of the officers who received the money are juniors earning a monthly wage of between K10 000 and K15 000. He also said most of them already have other commitments, including loans they are servicing.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“My monthly wage is K15 000 and I have other loans. How do they expect my family to survive and they have just told us on Friday that the deductions will start this month end [January]? This is not fair,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
This comes at a time the Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) puts the monthly basic needs basket for an average family of six at about K70 000 ( about $419) for Lilongwe, K61 000 (about $365) for Zomba, K65 000 (about $389) for Blantyre and K61 500 ($) for Mzuzu.
Another police officer said she was surprised that government had taken such a punitive decision which ignores the welfare of the affected officers although they did not ask for the money.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Although it is true that some of us were overpaid, we did not have any information as to how much one was supposed to receive. We were only told to submit names and bank details and the next thing we found the money in our accounts.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Now we are being bulldozed to pay back the money through the nose. Most of us are in very awkward situations because we already have several obligations as you know we receive very little money. My monthly pay is K10 000 and if they deduct K5 000, whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s there for me?Ã¢â‚¬Â she wondered.
In a radio communication on December 16 2011 headlined Ã¢â‚¬ËœJuly 20-21 demonstrationsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, police headquarters advised officers who got more than what they deserved to pay back the extra money.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“…headquarters has noted that there are some officers who were either overpaid or double paid to their bank account. Those officers concerned are, therefore, requested to report to their A/OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s [administration officer] or RFOs [regional finance officer] before 22 December 2011.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Those officers failing to comply [with the directive] their issue will be treated as criminals, during verification exercise. Treat this matter as urgent,Ã¢â‚¬Â stated the radio announcement.
A senior officer at police headquarters confirmed that the officers whose bank accounts were overpaid or the normal amount doubled would start paying back the money this month end.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“That information is very true. A decision was made to recover the money but it is not everybody who received the allowances but only those whose accounts were overpaid. It is very unfortunate because the mistake was done at the accounts department but innocent officers will suffer,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
National police spokesperson Davie Chingwalu said there was currently an audit exercise to ascertain that appropriate beneficiaries received their dues and verify anomalies of double payments to some officers.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Once confirmed, a decision will be taken as to how the recovery will take place,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Chingwalu. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Police Act is very clear on deductions of police salaries to avoid pecuniary embarrassment. No decision has yet been taken on this until the verification exercise is complete.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Chingwalu justified the deduction, saying it was normal practice in finance and accounting that where over payment has been made, repayment should be done and that in this case, the repayment would be done with due regard to the financial obligation of each individual officer.
He said the money was provided by government and all the repayments would be channelled back to the government. He said only those who were over paid would be deducted and not every officer who received K60 000.