Malawi’s development partners have expressed concern that President Peter Mutharika’s administration slowed down implementation of the new Public Audit Act and used an old law in appointing Auditor General (AG) Harold Mwala.
Mwala was appointed using the old Section 5 of the Public Audit Act as read with Section 183 (3) of the Constitution which gave appointing powers to the President and confirmation by a committee of the le National Assembly.
But Section 5(a) of the new law gazetted on May 11 2018 after the President signed it into law on May 8 provides for a transparent procedure in the appointment of the AG which includes advertising in two widely circulating newspapers and instituting a panel to shortlist candidates and conduct interviews.
Section 5(a)(5) reads: “The President shall subject to Section 183 (3) of the Constitution to appoint an Auditor General only from the names on the list recommended by the selection.”
However, responding to a questionnaire on behalf of the donors that include Britain and Germany, United States of America Ambassador Virginia Palmer yesterday said the development partners were concerned that the procedure was flouted.
In a written response, she said: “As Malawi’s development partners, we are concerned the government of Malawi did not follow the procedures laid out in the recently approved Public Audit Act to fill the position of Auditor General
“The Act has not yet come into force but the donors responded: “The apparent disregard for these procedures [even if the Act is not yet formally in force] contradicts the government’s commitment to its Public Service Reform initiative and is not consistent with its commitment to transparency and accountability.”
Palmer said the development partners appreciate that the role of the AG was crucial to ensuring government funds are well spent and go towards real public sector reform.
On the way forward, she said the donors have appealed to the government to follow the Act’s procedures to select a new Auditor General.
They have further looked to the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament to review the process and make a determination.
The AG appointee is yet to be confirmed, but there is a notice on the Order Paper—an outline of business to be tackled in Parliament—on the confirmation, but a date is yet to be set.
In an interview yesterday, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe confirmed that Mwala was not appointed using the new Act because the law was not yet in force.
He said the date of entering into force would be “anytime now” and he would ask the Attorney General on when this could be done.
However, Gondwe was however sceptical that the confirmation would happen in the next two days because leadership of Parliament indicated that there was no time.
He said: “It is just a matter of appointing a date because it was already gazetted.”
They further commended the improvements in the National Audit Office under the leadership of the former AG, Stephenson Kamphasa, whose contract was not renewed, and “hope this positive trend will continue”.
Kamphasa was in office at the time that Malawi was hit with theft of billions of public funds known as Cashgate and oversaw the reduction of the backlog of public audits, especially at local government councils.
He leaves at a time his office has submitted files for further investigation to the Anti-Corruption Bureau pertaining to the K236 billion loss in the period between 2009 and 2014.