Government is yet to prosecute 38 Ministry of Health staff implicated in the abuse of over K870 million donor funds for HIV and Aids fight in 2015, Weekend Nation has learnt.
Sources at the ministry say government has merely interdicted, transferred or retired some staff, and deducted part of the money from their gratuity.
A 2015 National Audit Office (NAO) audit pegged the missing funds for HIV and Aids activities at K2.5 billion and the number of implicated officials, among them, directors of finance, human resources and drivers, was at 63.
However, a second audit by a private firm Graham Carr reduced the missing funds to K875.7 million and the number of staff implicated in the abuse of the money to 38. The funds were from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), an agency of the Government of the United States of America.
When the scam was exposed, the US Embassy public affairs officer Edward Monster recommended that all those involved in the malfeasance should be prosecuted.
“Employees found guilty of malfeasance should be subjected to appropriate disciplinary action, including termination of employment and prosecution by law enforcement authorities, where appropriate,” he said.
The embassy’s spokesperson Nick Novak said in an e-mailed response yesterday: “We continue to encourage the ministry and all other parts of the Government of Malawi to promptly pursue cases of proven malfeasance”
“Failure to follow the requirements of the law sets a very bad precedent. Where appropriate, individuals proven to have misused public funds should be terminated and turned over to law enforcement authorities for prosecution.”
Novak said for 18 months the embassy has engaged the Ministry of Health to press for decisive disciplinary action and that merely transferring an employee guilty of malfeasance does not seem to be disciplinary action significant enough to deter potential wrongdoing.
Weekend Nation show that two years down the line, some members of staff who received allowances for trips they did not undertake were only interdicted, while others were transferred or retired from the civil service.
The majority of interdicted are junior staff, including drivers who were on the receiving end while some senior officials are either serving suspensions and or were retired, and yet others were merely transferred.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango confirmed in an interview on Wednesday that two officials, who retired after reaching their mandatory retirement age, paid back a sum of K7 million they pocketed for field trips which they never undertook.
He refused to disclose their identities, but confirmed that Treasury deducted the money from their retirement packages.
Meanwhile, the ministry has appointed a disciplinary committee composed of people from outside it. They will be confirmed by the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) to hear the merits and demerits of each case.
Said Malango: “Everyone is perceived innocent until proven guilty, hence the decision by the ministry not to rush into taking stern measures against those incriminated.
“The committee will hear cases for all those below P5 while OPC will handle all officers from P5 to P2.”
He said after hearing the cases, the independent committee, with advice from the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, will advise the ministry on action to be taken for those found in the wrong.
Malango said the move to hear the cases recommended by the Department of Human Resources Management and Development and the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
In an interview, the Department of Human Resources and Development spokesperson Rudo Kayira said each department or ministry is expected to discipline members of staff that fall under it.
Health Service Commission chairperson Lilian Ng’oma said the commission is yet to receive a report on the issue, which she described as “sensitive” and “complicated”.
She said: “When issues are very sensitive and complicated, they are first thoroughly investigated before being sent to us.”
Commenting on the issue, Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) executive director George Jobe argued that theft of health-related resources is tantamount to killing intended beneficiaries of the resources.
He said: “No one should be spared from prosecution because they have given back the money. Imagine if some people died because the funds were stolen, by the time the money is being paid back, those lives could not be brought back.”
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Parliamentary Committee on Health chairperson Juliana Lunguzi wondered why the normal process of handling issues of theft by public servant, where the suspects are arrested, is not being followed.
Chief Secretary to Government Lloyd Muhara could not pick calls the whole of this week or respond to our inquiry when we tried to find out how his office intends to discipline some senior officials implicated in the scam. n