Government owes over 800 Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers who have been participating in peacekeeping missions in war-torn countries under the UN umbrella about K3.3 billion following deductions made on their allowances.
But the Ministry of Defence has said the deductions were not made arbitrarily as MDF had to fulfil some conditions before the whole tranche was released from the United Nations’ Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to pay the soldiers.
From communication Nation on Sunday has seen, MDF has between August 2014 and January 2015 paid its soldiers who participated in the UN peacekeeping missions $4 908 719.21 (about K2.5 billion at the current exchange rate).
But except for August 2014, when the individual soldiers were paid in full as authorised by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly which set $1 332 (about K689 976 at the current exchange rate) per soldier per month, MDF reduced the amount in the subsequent months up to January 2015.
If funds were available, according to our calculations and based on the set rates, MDF would have up to May 2015 paid $11 282 040 (roughly K5.8 billion at the current exchange rate).
But so far, according to the communication, roughly over K2.5 billion has been paid in earned allowances to the soldiers, leaving out $6 373 320.79 as at May this year (roughly over K3.3 billion).
Instead of the $1 332 as authorised by the UN, MDF released to each of the concerned soldiers $574 (about K297 332 at the current exchange rate) in September and October 2014.
MDF, according to the internal communication, adjusted the amount to $1 099 per soldier per month for the months of November, December 2014 and January 2015.
MDF had not made payments for February, March, April and May, and according to the communication, they were still waiting for remittance for the months mentioned.
The concerned soldiers, through their Commander General Ignacio Maulana, petitioned government in June this year, questioning why their allowances were being deducted without any explanation.
The soldiers also complained of delayed payments of the allowances.
But Ministry of Defence principal secretary (PS) Paul Chiunguzeni said in an interview on Friday that MDF has explained to the soldiers why their allowances were being deducted because there have been a number of contributing factors.
One of the factors, the PS said, was that the UN pays governments for equipment used at such missions such as cars. He said it was not at all the time that the Malawi vehicles were up and running.
Chiunguzeni said: “There were times when vehicles would break down and the UN could not make reimbursement to the Malawi Government for time the vehicles were not in use, hence the deductions being made.”
In the communication, MDF explained that the DPKO is yet to remit allowances for February, March, April and May this year.
While MDF in an interview, through its spokesperson lieutenant Paul Chiphwanya, said the information related to the issues was confidential, some MDF sources said the soldiers were being punished for MDF’s failure to maintain vehicles at such missions.
The sources agreed with the PS that during such missions, participating nations provide vehicles and other equipment, including guns and that the UN pay some reimbursement to the participating governments for the equipment, including uniforms.
One source said: “Vehicles are supposed to be routinely serviced and it transpired that in our case, some were not, hence the deductions the DPKO made.
“But that burden cannot and should never be put on us. We cannot have our allowances deducted for the institution’s failure to maintain the vehicles. We are a much disciplined profession but the authorities should not take advantage of our discipline and pull our legs a little too far.
“The reimbursements for the equipment go to government for resources provided while soldiers receive that set allowance through our office back here. We would have expected the deductions to be made on funds that go to government coffers for the equipment, and not our personal allowances.”
Ministry of Finance spokesperson Nations Msowoya said in a response to a questionnaire that Treasury make funding to institutions based on an agreed cash flow.
He said MDF has been receiving their monthly funding just like any other government department, but cannot tell what type of activities were implemented by that money because that is the responsibility of the controlling officer.
Msowoya said: “Deployment of the MDF soldiers to participate in peacekeeping missions and payment of their dues is entirely an MDF matter, therefore, Treasury cannot competently comment on it.
“As such, MDF authorities are better placed to comment on the underlying causes for the delays in payment of allowances to soldiers and how much each soldier is entitled to.”
Asked how proceeds from the UN peacekeeping operations to government are treated, Msowoya said the money is treated like any other revenue and is deposited in the Consolidated Fund to finance government budget.
According to a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on 30 June 2014 on rates of reimbursement to troop-contributing countries, the assembly increased the amount to $1 332 per person per month as from July 1 2014.
The $1 332 (about K689 976.00 at the current exchange rate) is what MDF released to its soldiers for the month of August 2014, but dropped to $574 in September and October 2014, and rose to $1 099 for November, December 2014 and January 2015, according to our sources.
According to the communication seen, the MDF informs the concerned officers that the New York-based DPKO has been remitting insufficient funds for troop allowances from September 2014 to January 2015
MDF in the communication admitted there has been incessant pressure to pay the available funds to troops.
In the communication, MDF also conceded the rates used are not UN-authorised standard, but were just used as an average earning per day depending on the remitted funds.
The UN Malawi office was unable to respond to a questionnaire as the country representative was reportedly not in the country, but referred us to three Internet links that would help with information related to the issue.