Senior managers of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), including chief elections officer Willie Kalonga, have gone on one-month forced leave to pave the way for investigations into allegations of financial abuse at the electoral body.
MEC chairperson Maxon Mbendera confirmed in an interview Wednesday that all officers from the level of director upwards will be affected by the decision following a resolution passed by the Malawi Electoral Cycle Support (Mecs) Project Steering Committee comprising government officials and development partners.
He said a working group co-chaired by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) passed the resolution during its meeting on Tuesday following audit reports suggesting abuse of resources.
Mbendera, who is also a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, said a three-member team comprising representatives of the Malawi Law Society (MLS), Institute of Chartered Accountants in Malawi (Icam) and audit and business advisory firm Deloitte will undertake the probe.
He said: “The panel will look at the work of the auditors and also review the conduct of MEC. You [media] have gone to town gentlemen with the idea that money was stolen and we have contested that view from the very beginning.
“We are not seeking vindication. We want the truth to come out. If there was any money stolen, this exercise will show that. If the audit was rubbish, this will also show it. The jury is out there. It’s not MEC that has set up for this panel. It’s a joint decision between Treasury and MEC. We could not investigate ourselves so we opted for an independent body.
“After the panel does its work, it will file a report to the co-chair of the steering committee, the Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe and Secretary to the Treasury. We will satisfy the donors, government, civil society and the public.”
Mbendera dismissed suggestions that the move will paralyse MEC as well as comparisons to the shutting down of MEC by former president Bingu wa Mutharika.
He said: “This is not the case. This is simply asking people who handled issues at MEC being asked to afumbuke kaye [leave temporarily] to satisfy the public scrutiny an investigation has taken place. No one is on suspension. Do you remember there was an allegation that we were doing things without authorisation? Just doing them because we can? That we took money in allowances for trips we did not undertake? That I bought a certain vehicle at a certain price? Every allegation will be scrutinised.”
The probe has coincided with the expiry of the term of office for the rest of MEC commissioners except Mbendera whose mandate runs up to October 2016.
But Kalonga yesterday expressed surprise at the development in an e-mail response, saying he was yet to receive any communication on the matter but welcomed the probe.
Yesterday, The Nation reported that during a Mecs meeting on January 19 this year, development partners, notably Britain, United States of America and UNDP rejected MEC’s explanation on expenditure and suspected fraud as well as nepotism at the institution.