Weeks after publicly denying they get allowances for coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic assignments, internal government communication has revealed that taxpayers are financing travel allowances for the Cabinet ministers and their entourages.
The revelations follow a leaked programme outlining field trips being undertaken by Cabinet ministers belonging to the Special Cabinet Committee on Coronavirus and legislators belonging to the Parliamentary Committee on Health to some districts purportedly to assess preparedness at district level.
In an internal communication, Ministry of Disaster Management Affairs and Public Events deputy director of response and recovery Dyce Nkhoma is asking controlling officers in ministries to submit names of “all officials and support staff” accompanying the ministers and members of Parliament (MPs) on the tour of health facilities.
Reads the communication in part: “May controlling officers submit this morning [Monday] to the Ministry of Disaster Management Affairs, by way of memos, all officials and support staff accompanying the ministers, indicating names, name of banks and account numbers and vehicle registration numbers for processing of allowances and fuel arrangements. The contact person for these transactions is Mr. Dyce Nkhoma, deputy director of response and recovery.”
The controlling officers were further advised to get details on the districts assigned to their respective ministers from the clerk of Cabinet.
In an interview yesterday, Nkhoma confirmed that he was coordinating the financial aspect of the monitoring exercise, but referred The Nation to Treasury and the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) for further questions.
He said: “I am just responsible for coordinating the funds, but OPC is the one which is responsible for the budget and funding. I may give you incorrect information.”
Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Mark Botomani, a member of the Cabinet committee and official government spokesperson, refused to comment on expenditures, saying the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) was better-placed to do so.
But he justified the trips, saying the committee has allegedly previously come under fire for not going on the ground.
Said Botomani: “We have been accused of just sitting in air-conditioned rooms. The necessity for members of the committee and other committees of Parliament cannot be over-emphasised. But I only comment on matters of policy.”
Another Cabinet minister, who is on the list but refused to be named, also defended the expenditure, saying: “As far as I know, we are not taking any allowances when we meet in Lilongwe, but any Malawian can attest that we need to see for ourselves.
“It’s important for members of the committee to travel, but as for expenditure, there are other entities that can comment on that.”
In a separate interview, Parliamentary Committee on Health chairperson Mathews Ngwale also defended the tour, saying his committee requested to check the preparedness on the ground at health facilities.
“I cannot comment on the Cabinet, but I can comment on our committee. We have oversight committees that could not check the facilities in rural areas, so we really needed the funding,” he said.
But corporate governance expert Anthony Mukumbwa yesterday described the planned exercise as abuse of resources and mismanagement.
He said there are capable district commissioners and other experts in councils representing the Executive who can ably undertake the assignment and report back.
“Ministers are supposed to supervise from the headquarters, they have no capacity to do any monitoring.
“Priority should be buying protection gear for health workers. This exercise is mismanagement of the highest level,” said Mukumbwa.
Three weeks ago, the country’s estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima alleged that Cabinet ministers had turned Covid-19 into an allowance spinning exercise.
Expectedly, the ministers dismissed the Vice-President as a liar, with some of them claiming to be financing the errands from their personal resources. However, none produced evidence to prove the claims.
In his address to on Sunday evening, Chilima stressed his concern that his supposed Cabinet colleagues were travelling to make money.
Two weeks ago, the ministers also undertook a similar “assessment” trips to various districts nationwide.
Malawi’s National Response to Covid-19 is budgeted at K157 billion with activities lined up, including communication, coordination, health, water and sanitation, security and enforcement, education, food security, transport logistics.