Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament has expressed shock at what it has described as massive plunder of public resources in Malawi’s foreign missions and has recommended to the new administration to act on errant diplomats.
In a report on PAC’s scrutiny of the Attorney General’s reports of 2017 and 2018 presented in Parliament on Wednesday, committee chairperson Shadreck Namalomba indicated that over K650 million was abused during the period under review and that all audited embassies failed to account for visa fees.
The committee said the findings point to an organised fraud syndicate involving officials from ministries of Foreign Affairs and Finance as well as foreign nationals in respective embassies hired to work.
In an interview on Thursday, Namalomba, who is Mangochi South East legislator and affiliated to the former governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said his committee was particularly concerned that while the audit reports exposed massive fraud in embassies, no one was taken to task for such offences.
He said following the release of the report, it was the expectation of his committee that law enforcement agencies such as Fiscal Police, Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) will act accordingly.
Namalomba observed that foreign missions had become a fertile ground for corruption largely because appointment of officers was based on political connections.
He said: “The new administration must look into recruitment of officers in foreign missions. We need career diplomats and civil servants sent to foreign missions otherwise the more we send politically-connected individuals, the more we allow fraud to continue.”
The report shows that in India, K194 million was funded over and above what was approved while K16 million was transferred from one account to an untraced account.
At the Malawi High Commission in London, the report indicates that K58 million was withdrawn for State Residences, but was not accounted for, leaving the committee wondering how Kamuzu Palace—the official residence of the President in Lilongwe—ended up benefitting from funds meant for UK.
In Ethiopia, an unspecified amount of funds was channelled into personal accounts, according to the report while in Belgium there was a self-authorisation of allowances to the tune of K12 million as well as a remittance of K18 million without a corresponding deposit.
In Germany, the actual funding for the embassy the President and Cabinet to ensure that recruitment in foreign missions is merit-based and that all diplomats and controlling officers who may have a hand in this malpractice should be brought to book to set the record straight. The committee is also calling for a functional review in foreign missions as well as tabling of the Foreign Services Bill to sanitise Foreign Service.
Reads the report: “Government should recall and sanction all diplomats who authorised the expenditures from visa accounts without seeking prior authority. This includes diplomats that authorised ineligible payments of rent, utilities and school fees, among others, contrary to standing regulations on conditions of service in foreign missions.”
In April this year, our sister newspaper, Nation on Sunday, published an analysis of the Auditor General’s reports which revealed that between 2009 and 2019 set public finance management guidelines and Auditor General’s instructions were ignored, leading to incessant plunder.
This analysis demonstrated that almost every year public funds are mismanaged in the same way because of what Oxfam and Integrity Platform said was lack of punitive action of wrongdoers.
But Namalomba said there was now hope because the new administration has set a strong tone in the fight against corruption.