A consortium of donors is demanding Malawi Government to endorse the full board arrangement where civil servants attending donor-funded activities are not paid cash, or risk aid withdrawal for the projects.
The donors have written the Office of the President and Cabinet following civil servants’ boycott of donor-funded workshops and meetings because they are not given daily subsistence allowances (DSAs).
The donors complain that this is resulting in waste of donor taxpayers’ money, knowledge gap and failure to improve service delivery to the people of Malawi.
Chief Secretary to the Government George Mkondiwa confirmed receiving the joint letter from the European Union, US, Germany, Ireland and Norway and said his office will be finding out from the various Ministries and Departments and Agencies (MDAs) the officers that have been shunning donors’ functions.
Mkondiwa also said he will soon invite donors to discuss the matter.
But some commentators who included civil servants have called for flexibility in implementing the DSA guidelines, saying civil servants might have a point in shunning some workshops where allowances are not paid because when they travel away from their duty stations they end up incurring unplanned expenditure on incidentals such as drinking water, food, ironing costs and communication costs as they need to call their homes to check on their families.
The demand by the Development Partners (donors who finance various development programmes in Malawi) has come two years after the DPs reviewed principles and guidelines for daily subsistence allowances and transport allowances (DSAs) for civil servants rates for all donor-funded events.
The other DPs who agreed to adhere to the principles and guidelines which came into effect in October last year, superseding a November 2013 agreement are the African Development Bank, Candadian High Commission, Flanders International Cooperation Agency (FICA) Icelandic International Development Agency (ICeida), Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), Royal Norwegian Embassy, the United Nations and the World Bank.
According to the principles and guidelines, the DPs agreed that participants to the workshops, trainings, seminars and field trips, shall not receive sitting allowances. They shall also not receive payments for performing duties such as workshops, facilitation or presenting papers for which they receive a salary.
The organising institution shall cover actual costs related to the event; accommodation shall be paid at actual cost directly by the organising institution to the venue/hotel within the agreed maximum limit of K43 000 per person per night.
The guidelines stipulate that in exceptional cases, when payment of actual costs is deemed not feasible such as when an event is planned in rural areas, allowances for meals and/or accommodation may be paid for travel outside the place of employment within agreed maximum established limits.
The limits are K2 500 for lunch, K4 000 for dinner and K13 500 for accommodation.
The revision of guidelines followed the introduction of a cost-based approach which limits direct cash handouts to participants for their food, accommodation and other out-of-pocket expenses and transport.
According to the guidelines, events such as workshops, training and seminars are intended to strengthen individual capacity and improve job performance while the participation in activities is considered part of one’s official duties.
“However, participation in such events and missions came to be viewed as one method of supplementing an individual’s salary,” state the guidelines titled ‘Harmonised Daily Subsistence, Fuel, and Transport Allowances (DSAs) Applicable to Events, Missions Financed under Development Partners (DPs) Programmes in Malawi.’ ”
According to the document, the guidelines were developed to minimise the financial incentives associated with participating in such events.
“Nevertheless, fully addressing the incentives associated with participation in events and missions requires comprehensive public reform that compensates civil servants in a manner commensurate with their job performance,” states the guidelines.
The donors say the guidelines, in a small way, support the government’s Public Service Reform initiative.
Among other things, the guidelines include the introduction of the full board system where civil servants are allowed to eat and sleep at a hotel but not receive cash, or in some exceptional cases get a minimal allowance of K5 000 per day.
German Ambassador to Malawi Peter Woeste, one of those who have written government on the issue, said many Malawians attend external events for the sake of receiving allowances.
He said often the culture of allowances has set wrong incentives, in particular when paid in cash.
Woeste said the new system where food and lodging are paid directly by the organisers to the hotel and only for those attending the whole function and not just the moment of registration is in the interest of all citizens.
Said Woeste: “Since the introduction of the new guidelines, there have been some interesting experiences which demonstrate that the focus for many people is on the money rather than on the development of skills necessary to provide better services to the people of Malawi:
He cited a training activity that is part of the National Audit Office (NAO) project financed by the German Government where training was delivered for members of the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) of Parliament from May 17 to 19 2016.
“The attendance in this training was not encouraging from Pac members as out of 26 Pac members, only 12 attended.”
He pointed out that the German government will need to decide if a follow-up training that is planned for PAC members in 2017 is justified.
The Ambassador said it has been discovered that one of the main reasons why most members did not attend the training was because there were no allowances besides the fact that the training took place in Lilongwe and not at a more attractive venue such as at the lake.
“I encourage our partners in the Government of Malawi to follow our example to abolish cash allowances because cash attracts the wrong people,” he said.
On its part, the US Embassy described the problem of government officials boycotting donor-funded trainings as a serious one. The Embassy’s public affairs officer Edward Monster cited officials from the Ministry of Health whom he said have been boycotting trainings since May this year.
He said the boycotts have interrupted his government-funded trainings related to providing care for children and adults with HIV and to the implementation of new HIV testing, critical to the new HIV Test and Treat programme.
Monster said the programme is intended to allow thousands of Malawians to immediately receive medicine should they test positive for HIV.
“Ultimately, HIV positive Malawian citizens who need critical life-saving care and treatment are at risk due to the actions of some Ministry of Health employees,” he said.
“The US Government immediately raised concerns over the boycotts with the Ministry of Health, particularly in regard to the potential effect of the boycotts on continued U.S. support to Malawi under the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar).
He said guidelines were instituted to ensure that participants in workshops and training sessions do not incur out-of-pocket expenses and that people were not participating in so many events/training in order to secure allowances.
Monster said as recently as August 2 this year at the launch of the Test and Treat programme, the Minister of Health Dr Peter Kumpalume talked about the problem. But officials have continued to boycott the trainings.
“The US Government is extremely concerned that the Test and Treat programme will be delayed because staff are not trained in new treatment guidelines. We are also concerned that plans for reaching the UN’s “90-90-90” targets have already suffered and Malawi’s progress toward those goals will continue to fall behind as result of these boycotts.”
The UN 90-90-90 is a UN-funded programme which aims at making 90 percent of people living with HIV to be aware of their HIV status by 2020.
Said Monster: “The boycotts waste a substantial amount of the limited U.S. and Malawian financial resources when the trainings do not occur. This jeopardizes future support of the US Government in these critical areas. Unfortunately, these boycotts will ultimately affect the ability of the Ministry of Health to implement quality health services for Malawian citizens, particularly those who are HIV+.”
“As with many health issues, the most significant impact falls on women and children,” he said.
He said trainings were not meant to provide salary supplements.
“Development partners have written to the Chief Secretary [George Mkondiwa], urging the Government of Malawi to take action to publicise the DSA guidelines and include them in President [Peter] Mutharika’s Public Sector Reform agenda.
Monster asked the Government of Malawi to enact clear policies to ensure there are no future boycotts.
However, civil servants who opted for not to be named urged for flexibility in implementing the DSA guidelines saying civil servants might have a point in shunning some workshops where allowances are not paid because when they travel away from their duty stations they end up incurring unplanned expenditure. n