Five years after receiving a complaint on suspected K300 million-plus fraud at the Malawi Embassy in Kenya, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is yet to commence investigations into the issue, it has emerged.
In an interview at the weekend, ACB spokesperson Egrita Ndala said the bureau was yet to move on the issue because the National Audit Office (NAO) is yet to furnish it with a copy of the 2014 investigative audit report for the Malawi Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.
But NAO spokesperson Rabson Kagwam’minga said in a separate interview on Monday he was not aware of any request from ACB for an audit.
He said what he knew was that NAO, at the request of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, undertook an investigative audit report released in 2014 and also formed the basis of an inquiry by Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament.
Kagwaminga said: “The 2014 report is comprehensive. It is what prompted PAC to commence an inquiry as far as I can recall. Otherwise, I do not know of any fresh request for an audit in Kenya.”
In 2018, the office of the Attorney General (AG) indicated that it would commence legal proceedings against some Kenyan firms alleged to have defrauded the Malawi Government.
But in a written response on Monday, current AG Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda admitted that he was yet to work on the file.
In a report to government in 2013, then Malawi High Commissioner to Kenya Brigadier Marcel Chirwa indicated that there were massive withdrawals from the embassy’s property account in 2012. The report said the withdrawals started immediately after the death of former president Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012.
It is feared that in 2012 alone, funds amounting to over K300 million were withdrawn after a sudden change of signatories.
The Auditor General’s investigative audit report in 2014 also revealed weaknesses in financial controls and management of Malawi Government properties, namely the official residence of the high commissioner and the chancery.
Further, the report faulted the Joyce Banda administration for appointing their own property manager in May 2012, messrs Kairu Mbuthia and Kiingati Advocates without following procurement procedures. The new managers received a monthly retainer fee of about $2 023.81 while the previous manager was charging $892.86.
Meanwhile, governance commentators have expressed concern over the lack of update or action, saying it is what fuels fraud and corruption in the public service.
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace national coordinator Boniface Chibwana said PAC’s failure to provide an update on its findings was a huge concern considering that it is a critical oversight actor in public finance management.
He said: “Failure by Parliament to deal with this matter effectively is tantamount to a serious abrogation of duty. Looking at the matter from another angle, this undesirable scenario is indicative of shady operatives of possible political connivance to defraud government, especially in light of the fact that three successive governments have not decisively dealt with the matter despite the country losing a lot of money in the saga.”
Chibwana said the ACB’s delay to deal with the matter was a silent tolerance to systematic and organised stealing of public resources in foreign missions.
In a separate interview, Human Rights Defenders Coalition chairperson Gift Trapence asked PAC to explain what was delaying the release of their report.
Said Trapence: “The dragging of such cases worries us. Malawians would want to see radical progress of such cases, otherwise many are losing trust as to whether the country is in the right direction in its fight against corruption or not.”
In 2018, PAC members travelled to Nairobi as part of their inquiry into the management of public funds at the mission in Kenya, but have not yet provided an update on the outcome of their investigation.
Follow-ups with current PAC chairperson Shadric Namalomba have yielded no result as our latest questionnaire sent on March 27 2022 is yet to be responded to.
Former PAC chairperson Alekeni Menyani, in an interview days after the Kenya trip, described the Nairobi case as a ‘cartel’, but could not give more details, saying doing so would jeopardize progress.
Records indicate that following the closure of the mission in Nairobi in 2005, Malawi Government opened a property account at Equatorial Commercial Bank Kenya in November the same year where funds for rented property, notably the chancery and the residence, were deposited.
Bank statements showed that there were funds deposited for rentals from 2005 to 2012 when the mission was reopened, but the funds could not be accounted for.