Details have emerged of how K780 million in Covid-19 funds was blown between April and June 2020 in what analysts have described as unjustified allowances by Cabinet ministers and Department of Disaster Management Affairs
(Dodma) officials. of Disaster Management Affairs
Documents we have seen show that the money was spent on allowances through endless meetings at a time frontline health workers lacked personal protective equipment and other critical needs such as oxygen to treat patients with Covid-19 complications in public hospitals.
The expenditure vouchers, memos, loose minutes, payment vouchers, cheques, signing sheets, payment receipts and invoices detail how Dodma blew the K780 million, enough to purchase about 3 400 oxygen regulators at K230 000 each.
The records show that most of the expenditure catered for allowances for Dodma officials who purportedly conducted monitoring and inspection. The allowances were also extended to Cabinet ministers, including members of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, members of Parliament, the clergy and traditional leaders.
Further, the records show that some allowances were paid to journalists. But the journalists, including some from Nation Publications Limited (NPL), have said they were never paid, casting doubt on the authenticity of the records.
The revelations on the K780 million blown during the first three months of Covid-19 response in the country managed by the Peter Mutharika administration come at a time President Lazarus Chakwera and his Tonse Alliance team are embroiled in a controversy over K6.2 billion Covid-19 response funds disbursed last August.
In the K780 million case, members of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 such as chiefs, civil society organisations (CSOs) and religious leaders were often accommodated at The President’s Hotel at an average of K200 000 per night.
In terms of fuel refunds, the officials were getting up to K300 000 for a round trip from Blantyre to Lilongwe.
Our checks with drivers and other officials in government show that a V8 or VX engine, regarded a fuel guzzler and most common vehicle used by top government officials, consumes about K120 000 worth of fuel for such a trip.
Presidential Task Force
Contrary to claims at the time that no member of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, specifically Cabinet ministers, received “Covid allowances”, the documentation we have seen shows that the Cabinet ministers were being paid airtime and ‘professional’ allowances.
The records show that the first two task force meetings cost government about K14 million in allowances and hotel bookings. The payment was sanctioned by the office of the Chief Secretary to the Government through memos to Commissioner for Dodma.
The documents we have seen show that co-chairpersons of the Mutharika-appointed Covid-19 task force, namely then minister of Finance Joseph Mwanamvekha and Dr. John Phuka, were getting K90 000 per session with K50 000 classified as professional allowance and K40 000
as airtime allowance. Yesterday, Mwanamvekha did not pick our calls despite several attempts.
The rest of the task force members, including then Leader of Opposition in Parliament Lobin Lowe, Cabinet ministers Everton Chimul irenj i , Jappie Mhango, Mark Botomani, Mary Navicha, Clara Makungwa, Bright Msaka and Ben Phiri were getting K65 000 each (K45 000 as professional allowance and K20 000 for airtime).
Commenting on the allowances paid to Cabinet ministers, University of Malawi’s Chancellor College-based policy analyst Happy Kayuni said while it might have been legally justified, it is not in line with new public management philosophy.
He wondered how ministers volunteered to have a salary cut on account of Covid-19 only to claim allowance for the same cause.
“The public sector should borrow from the private sector that while the allowance maybe justified, is there value for money? Public sector reforms must address this extravagance,” said Kayuni.
Besides meetings, Cabinet ministers in the task force also undertook inspection tours around the country and each drew K70 000 per day.
In a letter dated June 5 2020, the Chief Secretary at the time Lloyd Muhara asked for funds to allow task force members visit various districts for monitoring purposes and K13 million was released.
MPs u n d e r t h e parliamentary committees on Health and Media also had their share of the cake for visits to districts on April 27 2020, according to the documents. The trips drew K4 million from the purse.
On May 27 2020, Dodma spent another K4 million on members of the same committees to visit some centres.
During the trip, the ministers and MPs were paid K165 000 in allowances (K55 000 per day) and allocated various fuel reimbursements ranging from K58 000 to K122 000.
Dodma on the move
During the period under review, Dodma staff embarked on nationwide trips to inspect and monitor various aspects of the Covid-19 response.
Subsequently, Dodma spent more on allowances, payments to upmarket hotels for food, accommodation and conferencing.
In one case, a Dodma official was paid K4 million in allowances to facilitate the return of refugees.
On May 7 2020, K10 million was spent on allowances for nine officials to facilitate the setting up of screening units at border posts.
In another instance, Dodma spent K17 million mostly in allowances to monitor the arrival of Malawians returning from South Africa while K30 million was spent for a similar exercise on May 30 2020.
While Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 press briefings were known to be without allowances for journalists, payment vouchers we have analysed