Fiscal police on Thursday arrested two Lilongwe District Council officials for allegedly embezzling over K123 million from the deceased estate account and council operation funds.
Both Lilongwe district commissioner Lawford Palani and Ministry of Local Government spokesperson Muhlabase Mughogho confirmed the arrests in separate interviews.
National police spokesperson James Kadadzera identified the suspects as Martin Msiska, who works as clerical officer and Charles Chapalapata, who is a senior assistant accountant at the council. He said police are still investigating the matter.
According to Palani, the two are suspected to have had a hand in the theft of the funds which has been happening at the council since 2005, but was busted after some beneficiaries of the deceased estate lodged multiple complaints.
He said the council in conjunction with the ministry commissioned an audit which discovered that over K123 million could not be accounted for, among others.
Said Palani: “So far, we have discovered that K99 500 000 from deceased estates account and K24 million from the ORT [other recurrent transactions] account was stolen.
“On the deceased estate, the officers used to go to the bank with their IDs, they would initially have asked the beneficiaries who were signatories to sign the forms which they would later use to draw,” said Palani.
According to Palani, Msiska is allegedly managing deceased estate accounts while Chapalapata handles the Lilongwe District Education West’s ORT account.
“Beneficiaries have been coming to LCD [to claim payments from the deceased estates account] but some were being told that people who were supposed to sign for the documents were not available and in some cases they were told to return later,” said Palani.
Mughogho hailed the arrests, describing them as a positive step in ensuring financial prudence in the local council.
“The arrests are indeed in line with the ministry’s agenda of ending corruption in councils. This is a continuation of the agenda that the Ministry already began. We hope that at the end of the day ‘a zero-corruption’ Local Government system is going to be attained,” she said.
The arrest of the two officials comes as pressure is mounting on authorities to curb resource abuse at council level.
Last week, the Office of the Ombudsman launched an investigation into how millions of kwacha in public funds meant for procurement of government vehicles have been disbursed for the past five years after whistleblowers said part of the funds were mismanaged and stolen.
The Ombudsman—mandated to investigate and address malpractices in public offices—will focus on trucking how taxpayers’ money has been used through Local Development Funds (LDF), Constituency Development Funds (CDF) and other channels, according to official sources.
The public protector, the source said, received two complaints from two members of Parliament about possible abuses of funds in various local councils.
The investigation is not a surprise to many aid agencies as various development partners including donors and non-governmental organisations tracking local government funding have raised similar concerns in the past.