The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) is haunted by outstanding debts estimated at K758 million (about $1.1million) accumulated since 2010, The Nation has established.
Minutes of a high-level meeting held late last year attended by all MEC commissioners, diplomats, heads of government departments and Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe The Nation has seen show that the electoral body is seeking assistance to settle the debts.
In the wake of the debts, sheriffs have been sealing MEC regional offices now and again.
During the meeting, according to the minutes, MEC chairperson Maxon Mbendera highlighted to the stakeholders that the commission’s debt situation stood at K758 million, including arrears dating back to 2010.
Reads part of the communication from Mbendera: “Government had audited MEC and committed to meeting the obligations, noting that for debts less than K10 million (about $14 680) were to be paid while debts over K10 million are to be offset via Treasury through other means, including the issuance of bonds. However, MEC does not have a clear picture on when this would happen.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Mbendera, who is also a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, confirmed the meeting and the outstanding debt, but could not say how the arrears accumulated.
He said: “The figure [of K758 million] is correct, but I am not the accounts officer. Talk to Willie Kalonga [chief elections officer] to explain to you.”
In an interview, Kalonga said the amount is bigger than the one reported so far.
However, he said about K400 million (about $587 210) was used to buy ballot boxes which were initially not budgeted for. Besides, Kalonga said, K200 million (about $293 605) was used to purchase 11 Toyota Landcruiser Prado vehicles for commissioners.
Said Kalonga: “There is so much that needs to be settled and all will be handled by government.”
Treasury spokesperson Nations Msowoya said he needed more time to look at the figures before commenting.
In recent months, MEC has been engulfed by issues of mismanagement of funds.
Last year, an audit report summary revealed findings on financial mismanagement indicating that the commission authorised bank transfers amounting to K118 667 404.44 (about $174 207) to some unknown accounts, invested K398 040 000 (about $584 333) without the commission’s written authority and paid out external travel allowances to commissioners and senior officers amounting to K15 422 756 (about $22 641), but they did not undertake the trips.
However, during an audience with President Peter Mutharika last week, Mbendera disputed mismanagement charges, blaming the media for allegedly blowing the issue out of proportion.
He said MEC duly explained the queries to auditors.
The President had earlier warned MEC against mismanagement of funds.
In July, sheriffs sealed MEC offices for unpaid dues amounting to K23 million owed to Chicken Cottage.