The contentious K4 billion fund for members of Parliament (MPs) ostensibly to facilitate development projects, continues to be shrouded in controversy with Treasury stating that it disbursed the money while some beneficiaries expressed ignorance.
The disbursement of the funds has come amid outstanding concerns for the scheme Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe once described as “magic money” when asked about the source.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development confirmed paying out the contentious funding through the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. Treasury said its role, after Parliament passed the Appropriation Bill during the Mid-Year Budget Review, was to provide the resources.
The disbursement of the funds suggests that MPs can now start making plans together with their respective district councils and area development committees (ADCs) to access and utilise the funds.
Treasury spokesperson Davis Sado said they released the funds through the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development this month following the ministry’s request.
He said: “We release funds according to the cash flow from ministries, departments and agencies. So according to their cash flow the request was made in May and Treasury has released the resources to them.”
Sado said the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development will then transfer the resources to the local councils, who will implement the projects alongside ADCs.
In a separate interview yesterday, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Government spokesperson Muhlabase Mughogho also confirmed receiving the money, saying part of it had already been disbursed to the councils.
She said: “We received K2.8 billion first and as of yesterday
[Wednesday], the funds had been disbursed in various amounts to all district councils depending on their requirements and also depending on the first submitted projects. The remaining K1.2 billion came later and the process is almost complete so that they should also be disbursed.”
But some of the opposition legislators said they were not aware of the development despite that the funding is supposed to be utilised by June 30 when the 2017/18 financial year ends.
The MPs who spoke to The Nation feared government secrecy in releasing the funds could be a new trick by government to dubiously divert the funds to a few legislatures or to other clandestine undertakings.
Leader of People’s Party (PP) in Parliament Raphael Mhone, in an interview on Wednesday, said he was not aware that Treasury already released the funds to the Ministry of Local Government.
He said: “I don’t have any idea that the funding was released. Even my district commissioner [DC] in Nkhata Bay has not indicated there is any payment to that effect because he would have communicated he had received such kind of money.”
On his part, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) chief whip Lobin Lowe also expressed ignorance that the money was dispatched to the councils.
He said: “We did not know anything that the money was released. Anyway, let me find out.”
In random interviews The Nation conducted yesterday some DCs also said they were yet to be communicated about the disbursement of the funds.
“We are not one of the councils that have started benefiting from the fund because they have not yet been released. All I know is that Treasury released them to Ministry of Local Government who are coming up with guidelines on how the funds will be used,” said Mzimba DC Thomas Chirwa.
The same sentiments were expressed by DCs in Dowa, Mchinji and Mulanje.
But Parliament’s Committee on Local Authorities and Rural Development chairperson Harry Chipeni said during the meeting they had with Ministry of Local Government representatives, they were made to understand that the funding was released last week.
He said: “We had a meeting in Salima last Saturday with the ministry where it transpired that the funds had already been transferred to all the district councils… Perhaps they [councils] are not aware because they have not been communicated to. But we have seen the guidelines that are to be followed.”
Political and governance analyst Henry Chingaipe told our sister newspaper, Nation on Sunday, two weeks ago “it is a proposal and my prayer would be that Parliament rejects it” because the K4 billion was a political miscalculation taking into consideration the unsettled dust on the issue.
Also commenting on the issue in an interview, one of the human rights advocates who has also been against the K4 billion payout, Gift Trapence wondered why government was rushing through the process when there are unresolved issues on the matter.
“The secret transferring of the funds raises more suspicions.But we will not tolerate such mafia-like behaviour by government. We will keep fighting until the decision is reversed and the money recovered,” he said.
The K4 billion fund was part of the grievances civil society organisations raised in their petition to government during the April 27 demonstrations. They demanded the resignation or dismissal of Gondwe and Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kondwani Nankhumwa for their roles in the fund initially planned to benefit 80 legislators affiliated to the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its allies. However, it was later extended to all the 193 legislators after the deal was exposed by the media. n