Hon. Folks, President Lazarus Chakwera’s order for controlling officers and heads of various Covid-19 clusters to account for K6.2 billion response funds suspected to have been mismanaged continues to make headlines.
In the past few days, a lot has happened, including the interdiction of at least 10 principal secretaries (PSs), 28 district commissioners (DCs) and five other senior government officers from various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
As we heard from State House this week, the suspensions have also affected chief executive officers for the cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba; Kasungu and Luchenza municipal councils and Mangochi Town Council.
Of course, many are still debating over Chakwera’s move to skip a Cabinet minister on his firing list after sacking the other technical co-chairperson of the task force. This is an issue for another day.
But as expected, many of these officers were caught unawares when the order was announced by the president as they had little or no backing expenditure documents to show regarding how Covid-19 funds allocated to their different tasks was used.
These officers were certainly on a knife’s edge and had to work under severe duress—sweating blood—just to put together the needed documents.
No wonder many were sent back by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 for doing substandard work.
This government needs to swiftly infuse the much-talked about mindset change in its workforce to eliminate the laissez-faire attitude that is prevalent among many civil servants.
Obviously no culprit in the government would want to go through the same experience twice. It is not only embarrassing but dangerous to one’s own career and to the country at large as it makes the government system susceptible to complacency resulting in widespread corruption.
Therefore, what the president did by taking a tough stance on widespread reports of mismanagement of these Covid-19 funds will ensure that such funds are used responsibly for the benefit of Malawians.
It will also significantly help to save his political reputation and that of his administration ahead of future elections.
Which takes us to another issue regarding checks and balances in Parliament where the former ruling DPP commands the opposition bloc amid assertions that the current opposition is the weakest in recent history.
But this was not the case this week as DPP resurrected from its slumber and joined demands for an audit on how the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) used the K6.2 billion Covid-19 response funds from Treasury.
The party requested the National Audit Office to immediately conduct the audit adding that if confirmed that funds were stolen or misappropriated, the responsible officers must immediately be arrested and prosecuted under the laws of the country.
The DPP also deserves commendation for taking a tough stance on the government because the money involved is quite substantial.
However, it is interesting to note that DPP, which was booted out of government partly due to widespread corruption, has matured overnight and has all the wisdom to see and get rid of the specks in the eyes of the MCP-led government.
Remember this is the same party Chakwera accused of allegedly stealing over $1 billion (about K780 billion at the current exchange rate) through corruption when he came to power.
The 2020 auditor General’s report on how the government managed its finances from 2018 showed that by DPP’s exit $10 million ( about K7.8 billion) could not be accounted for, $1 million (about K780 million) was used to pay for projects which were not completed and $400 000 (about K312 million) was used for fuel without corresponding documents.
This does not include the Covid19 funds mobilised by the previous administration with the help of donors which forced some donors to freeze direct funds to the government.
Much as the DPP demand for accountability is genuine, it also sounds like that tale of involving a thief to catch a thief in the hope that they will find a culprit.