Oxfam in Malawi has cautioned government against abuse of any funds to be channelled towards Covid-19 interventions following President Lazarus Chakwera’s declaration of a State of National Disaster on Tuesday.
Oxfam in Malawi country director Lingalireni Mihowa in a statement issued on Wednesday faulted the previous regime for using 79.8 percent of the total resources raised for Covid-19 response to pay allowances instead of prioritising critical issues that could have prevented the surge of the pandemic.
In his national address on Tuesday, Chakwera appealed for financial support from stakeholders to fight against the pandemic, which has tormented the country with its unprecedented virulent strain.
The new wave of Covid-19 has, this month alone, killed 46 people—including two Cabinet ministers—which accounts for about 24 percent of total deaths recorded between April and December 2020 when the virus killed 191 people.
The Oxfam report cited a report by the Office of the Ombudsman titled Misplaced Priorities which revealed that close to 80 percent of the K75 billion raised for Covid-19 interventions last year went into pockets of a few individuals in the form of allowances, among other suspicious expenditure lines.
Mihowa stated that such funds would have gone a long way in strengthening healthcare systems and helping to manage the current surging Covid-19 cases.
She said: “The country needs to learn from the most recent mistakes as noted in The Ombudsman’s Misplaced Priorities report. Given the dire situation we find ourselves in now and as a best governance practice, we expect the government machinery and all concerned stakeholders to put in place measures that will ensure that there is transparency and accountability of every tambala and any resources that will be mobilised following the call by the President.
“Abuse of public resources committed towards response to Covid-19 is immoral. It denies ordinary and poor Malawians of the much essential services in times like these. Let’s learn from our past mistakes.”
Mihowa has since called for personal and collective responsibility in adhering to Covid-19 preventive measures and that those entrusted with public resources must ensure that they are using them in a responsible, accountable and transparent manner.
The Ombudsman’s report revealed gross abuse of resources and maladministration in the implementation of Malawi National Covid-19 Preparedness and Response Plan, stating that K80 out of every K100 (80 percent) of the total funding secured was spent on coordination cluster allowances instead of essential needs such as provision of personal protective equipment for front-line healthcare workers.
Following the report, some officials returned the money to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) in compliance with the Ombudsman’s recommendations then.
Meanwhile, Dodma Principal Secretary James Chiusiwa says they have received K23 billion from Treasury for the implementation of the National Response Plan against Covid-19, K15 billion short of the amount the department had requested.
In an interview on Wednesday, he said the funds will cater for preventive measures being implemented by the Ministry of Health, enforcement of regulations, protection and coordination.
Said Chiusiwa: “We submitted a budget of K37.9 billion to Treasury. but they asked us to prioritise areas. We have been given around K23 billion. But with the declaration of State of National Disaster, we will take stock of different requirements.
Asked what measures government should put in place to ensure transparency and accountability, Ombudsman Martha Chizuma on Wednesday called for the need to stop the allowance culture if the country is to gain donor confidence.
In a separate interview, Nation Audit Office (NAO) acting Auditor General Rex Chiluzi said all returns on use of Covid-19 resources have to be periodically audited upon submission.
He said NAO,s role will be to ensure that resources are audited according to the country’s Public Finance Management regulations.