Inadequate funding and delayed disbursement of resources have choked operations of public governance institutions which are struggling to effectively carry out their constitutional obligations.
In some cases, officers in the institutions are forced to use personal resources to carry out official duties, it has emerged.
The Nation analysis focusing on four key governance bodies, namely the Independent Complaints Commission (ICC), Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), the Office of the Ombudsman and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) shows that there is a troubling working environment in the institutions.
The common challenge faced by the institutions is that they are allocated funding below their proposed budgets amid increased volume of work.
The situation on the ground is in sharp contrast to sentiments by President Lazarus Chakwera and his administration that they have increased funding to governance institutions.
In an interview last week, ACB principal public relations officer Egrita Ndala said if officers were to wait for advance funding, the bureau would be paralysed by now.
She said unlike other institutions that can plan ahead of time and make funding requests in advance, the ACB operations are dependent on outside stakeholders.
Ndala said: “You may have a case scheduled for tomorrow because the court has decided so. We cannot miss it because of lack of allowances.”
Three investigators and a prosecutor at the bureau confided that the bureau’s operations have survived through officers’ personal resources. They said the funds are reimbursed at a later stage and decried that the situation affects their personal budgets.
ICC, which rolled out its operations on July 1 2021, appears to be the most crippled institution as it has two investigators against the required 10, but has 124 cases to attend to.
ICC director general Christopher Tukula said in an interview the office has only one saloon for operations and they usually survive on rented vehicles against a thin annual budget of around K360 million.
In September 2021, ICC said it would embark on an investigation on Msundwe sexual abuse allegations during the post-2019 Tripartite Elections protests.
The planned probe followed two conflicting reports on the issue. An MHRC report faulted the police for having sexually assaulted the women while the police report queried the MHRC one, saying the medical reports for the purportedly victimised women were fabricated.
Financial records from ICC show that for the Msundwe case, the institution required K60 million yet in the current financial year investigations have been allocated only K90 million.
MHRC is equally complaining that its funding is not enough to correspond with its additional mandate which has come with the Access to Information (ATI) Act and the Gender Equality Act.
In a written response, the commission’s spokesperson Kate Kujaliwa indicated that under the ATI implementation unit they asked for K400 million to ensure that the ATI law is fully functional, but only got K71 million.
The State rights watchdog said it has over 1 000 cases to investigate, but faces a staff shortage as the establishment provides for 124 posts yet there are 66 filled.
Ombudsman Grace Malera, who is a commissioner of MHRC, said in a written response their vote has an increase in the current fiscal year, but the approved budget, especially for operations is less than what was proposed.
She said out of the proposed K980.5 million, the public protector received K660.5 million, representing a shortfall of K320 million.
Malera said: “The shortfall will negatively affect the effective functioning of the Office of the Ombudsman. In particular, a minimum of 500 individual complaints will not be resolved.
“We will also not be able to reach out with training to a minimum of 150 personnel that are performing the role of hospital ombudsman in a minimum of 150 health facilities, thereby negatively affecting their functions as hospital ombudsman. At least 500 000 people living in hard-to-reach areas will not have access to timely services of the office.”
The Office of the Ombudsman has 1 819 cases under investigation and 29 pending investigation.
Commenting on this state of affairs, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation executive director Michael Kaiyatsa said while it is understandable that resources may not be enough, government should invest in governance as it has huge economic benefits.
He said: “Look at how much resources are wasted due to corruption? If we support the MHRC, it will be able to empower citizens to demand accountability and in so doing we could cut down on wastage of public resources.
“Good governance is good for development and we expect the government to see value in funding these institutions adequately.”
But Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs has dismissed sentiments that governance institutions are underfunded.
Treasury spokesperson Taurai Banda said the level of allocations are guided by the available resources and that the institutions are always advised to prioritise.
On delayed disbursement, particularly to ACB, he said: “There is an arrangement with ACB to contact Treasury in times where they feel they have urgent payments so that they can be fast tracked such as where officers are going to the field urgently. This arrangement has worked well and that is the current situation as regards ACB funds disbursement.”
Banda, however, admitted that they have experienced technical problems in payment process towards the end of the financial year “probably due to high volumes of payments”.