The Office of the Ombudsman has launched an investigation into alleged lack of accountability, responsiveness and accessibility of services and funds under the multi-billion kwacha National Coronavirus (Covid-19) Response Plan and other interventions.
In a letter to Ministry of Disaster Management Affairs and Public Events Principal Secretary Elvis Thodi dated July 1 2020, Ombudsman Martha Chizuma said her office had learnt about allegations of lack of accountability, accessibility and responsiveness in implementation of the plan; hence, the investigation.
She said the seriousness of the impact of the coronavirus need no emphasis and that any act of maladministration in the implementation of the response plan and management of the funds could result into loss of lives.
Reads the Ombudsman’s letter: “The investigation will take a bottom-up approach, whereby the office [of the Ombudsman] will be analysing the funds received by each of the district councils, city councils and any other public institution for Covid-19.
“In that regard, the office will be monitoring the Covid-19 activities planned by the public institution, the activities actually carried out, effectiveness of those activities and observing any legal, policy or best practice gaps in the implementation of the same.”
In her communication, the Ombudsman has stressed the need for pro-activeness to prevent any loss of resources and ensure value for money. She added that the planned interventions should also benefit the intended beneficiaries.
To ensure timely interventions, Chizuma said her office would be providing real-time reports of its investigations, clearly highlighting the positives and, where necessary, also making directives and recommendations on any finding of maladministration.
Further reads the letter: “To this end and pursuant to Section 124 of the Constitution, I request your office to furnish my office with the following: (a). Detailed information of all the funding made by government or any other international body towards Covid-19 interventions in Malawi.
“(b). List of all public institutions in Malawi that have received such funding for Covid-19 interventions; (c). Any other report of expenditure or activities that have been carried out so far in relation to Covid-19 activities. I shall expect to receive all the information by 17th July, 2020.”
In a separate interview yesterday, Chizuma confirmed writing the letter, saying her office had sourced funding to undertake the investigation into the Covid-19 response in the country.
Department of Disaster Management Affairs spokesperson Chipiliro Khamula acknowledged receipt of the letter, saying, they were already preparing a financial report on the same.
He said: “We can confirm that we have received the letter from the Office of the Ombudsman requesting our office to furnish the Ombudsman with information to aid investigations into alleged lack of accountability for funds under the National Covid-19 Response operations.
“We realise that we are accountable to the public and all oversight institutions. We are going to honour the request made by the honourable Office of the Ombudsman.”
The Ombudsman’s letter coincided with an appeal by National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives (Nonm) president Shouts Simeza the same day on the need to track down all money in the fight against coronavirus.
He said: “Development partners and other donors pumped in a lot of money for Covid-19 fight, but where is the money? Can we track it so that it is used to set up self-quarantine centres which are now not effective? Some of us are willing to help government implement measures that can help deal with the pandemic.”
In an earlier interview with The Nation, Prince Kapondamgaga—a member of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 responsible for finances, but has since been appointed State House chief of staff by President Lazarus Chakwera—said the initial plan excluded some priority areas such as agriculture as it predominantly focused on health; hence, the revision from K157.1 billion to K254 billion.
He said the fund had K63 billion at hand, of which K7.4 billion was put in by government out of its K15 billion commitment. He said K3 billion of the government contribution was used for the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and K2.4 billion went to local government councils for their response.
The initial plan launched in April allocated a lion’s share of K92.4 billion to protection and social support followed by food security with a K16.5 billion allocation.
The breakdown showed that coordination has an allocation of about K332.4 million, health cluster K15.4 billion, water, sanitation and hygiene cluster K11.9 billion.
Several development partners, including the Irish Government, UK Aid, United States Government and the World Bank also pumped in money.
The Ombudsman’s probe comes hot on the heels of the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) suspension of contracts government recently awarded to pave the way for an investigative audit.
The OPC communication also followed a move by the Anti-Corruption Bureau which asked Treasury to provide details regarding payments made to anyone from June 1 2020.