Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday grilled two ministries for collectively spending about K55 million in unbudgeted expenditure to facilitate Malawi’s participation at the 2015 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
The revelations come against the background of controversy that surrounded the 2015 UNGA due to the bloated delegation which cost the Malawi Government about K500 million in travel and accommodation expenses and allowances.
PAC queried the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism on the misallocation of expenditures of K46.6 million and K4.9 million, respectively, charged to items not related to travel.
The expenditure means that activities funded to the tune of K55 million in the ministries were not implemented as the funding was diverted to cater for travel and allowances.
Responding to the K46.6 million query, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology Principal Secretary (PS) Erica Maganga said she regretted that the money was spent without seeking authorisation from the Secretary to the Treasury.
She said: “The K46.6 million was spent without Treasury authorisation to finance VVIP [very very important persons, mostly the President and the Vice-President] functions that we are mandated to provide. The necessary supporting documents such as payment vouchers were issued and all accounting procedures were followed.”
But her response did not impress Auditor General Stephenson Kamphasa who faulted the PS for failing to provide reasons why authority was not sought.
The ministry officials had to be probed further to disclose the VVIP events to which they channeled the public funds without prior planning.
On his part, director of Information in the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Gedion Munthali, said that the expenditure was on UNGA trip in New York and the Vice-President’s local and foreign trips.
Committee members interrupted Munthali midway through his response.
In explaining why authority to spend was not sought, Maganga said it was not possible to plan for all VVIP functions.
She said: “Much as we budget for VVIP functions, most times we do not get funding, but are required to backstop the VVIPs during events. But as a ministry we knew this was not properly done and we really regret it.”
The committee requested for further information from the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology before the response to the query could be noted.
On his part, Secretary for Industry, Trade and Tourism Ken Ndala said from the onset that the K4.9 million unauthorised expenditure in his ministry was used to facilitate travel for three officers who attended the 2015 UNGA.
He said the money was taken from the programme for professional and technical services.
But Ndala was visibly at pains to explain how the ministry managed to process payments, but could not seek authorisation from Treasury to use the funds for travel.
He said: “We looked at this trip as short notice because we don’t attend every year so it is possible in this year, the budget was inadequate.”
Ndala also said the President might have requested Trade officials to travel to UNGA upon noting the need.
The Auditor General observed that payments were done by September 18 2015, which he said was enough time for Treasury to give virement.
The developments violated Treasury Instructions to controlling officers as outlined in Section 92 of the Public Finance Management Act of 2003.
Article 2.5.4 on responsibilities of controlling officers states that he must ensure all expenditure is properly authorised and applied to the specific purposes for which it is appropriated.
Failure to abide by the Treasury instructions is a serious offence that renders the officer liable to disciplinary action.
Following the 2015 debacle, government has tightened measures to ensure all ministries should not authorize the travel of their officials to UNGA without the approval of the President.
During scrutiny of audits for government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), many controlling officers have been found flouting the Public Finance Management Act, especially on seeking Treasury approval for unplanned expenditure.
Despite flouting the provisions, however, no controlling officer has been brought to book, prompting PAC to express its disappointment with Treasury over what the parliamentary committee termed betrayal and lack of enthusiasm to act on officers accused of mismanaging public funds. n