Malawi’s National Assembly has so far paid over K14 million (about $38 889) hiring a vehicle for Clerk of Parliament Matilda Katopola over the past 14 months even after her new official vehicle was later available.
The National Assembly started hiring a vehicle for Katopola in September 2011 after she was involved in a road accident with her official vehicle a month earlier
But after the institution bought a new vehicle for her in May 2012, it did not surrender it to Katopola. Instead, it just parked the vehicle within the New Parliament Building while she continued using a rented vehicle.
An insider at the National Assembly confided that the hired car costs about K875 000 (about $2 430) per month.
This means that for the past eight months, Parliament has spent K7 million (about $19 445) on a hired vehicle when the Clerk of Parliament’s new official car idles away.
That amount, if transferred to the crisis-hit Kamuzu Central Hospital, would go a long way in saving lives of people currently dying from treatable diseases. Other public hospitals are also in dire straits.
We understand that Katopola wrote the National Assembly in July and October 2012 and January 2013, asking the National Assembly to off-hire the vehicle she is using, saying it is costly. She asked the institution to give her the new official vehicle.
In an interview this week, Katopola confirmed writing the National Assembly thrice to demand her vehicle, citing the high costs of hiring when an institutional vehicle is just parked.
Speaker of Parliament Henry Chimunthu Banda told Malawi News last week that as Katopola was leaving office in May, a procurement process for the vehicle had already been undertaken and they were just awaiting delivery.
Chimunthu Banda said when the vehicle arrived, they wrote the Attorney General (AG) to request for guidance on what to do with the vehicle.
He said before the vehicle issue, Parliament also sought the AG’s guidance after her court cases started.
The National Assembly wanted advice on her remuneration and benefits, which include paying school fees for her children.
The AG advised the institution to continue providing the benefits.
Both deputy clerks of Parliament Henry Njolomole and Leonard Mapemba and principal public relations officer Leonard Mengezi passed the ball to each other when asked to comment on the issue.
Said Njolomole on Thursday: “That information is not in my possession. I wish you spoke to Mr. Mapemba on the corporate side. You can also talk to Mr. Mengezi.”
Mapemba said: “I am on holiday. I cannot confirm the figure. I do not have the receipts with me. But it is a fact that we are hiring a vehicle for her.”
Mengezi said Njolomole was better placed to comment.
Asked why he was consulted on an administrative issue, Attorney General Anthony Kamanga said on Thursday: “I do not want to put words into their mouth. Ask them ‘how will the AG help you?’ Should we stop them from seeking our guidance? I think because the issue of Katopola is in court, they were being cautious.”
But executive director of Justice Link Justin Dzonzi, a lawyer, described Parliament’s reference of an administrative matter to the AG as “comical”.
Said Dzonzi: “This is comical. Is the Clerk of Parliament still an employee of Parliament? If yes, and Parliament buys her a vehicle, she should have it. Do they seek AG’s guidance to pay her salary?
“They have a COP who is not reporting for duties and whose other entitlements they are paying and instead of either getting rid of her, or reinstating her, they are in this dilemma. We do not need to be discussing this issue by now. Government should have dealt with it long time ago.”
In May last year, without giving reasons, the Parliamentary Service Commission recommended to President Joyce Banda that Katopola be removed from office. The committee also sent her on leave pending the Head of State’s decision.
But in mid July, Banda refused to sack Katopola, saying the PSC did not follow procedures in recommending her removal.
Soon after the President’s decision, PSC wrote Katopola asking her to return to work.
But Katopola refused to resume her duties until, she argued, the PSC clarified some things.
She then proceeded in July to file a case at the Industrial Relations Court in Lilongwe asking the court to declare her as having been constructively dismissed and that the PSC’s conduct amounted to unfair labour practices.