Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has mentioned weak internal financial expenditure controls and procurement systems for embassies as contributing to recent cases of embezzlement and mismanagement at some of the country’s foreign missions.
Appearing before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in Lilongwe, the ministry’s officials, led by Principal Secretary (PS) Isaac Munlo, admitted that irregularities and unprocedural procurement processes in the ministry led to millions of taxpayers’ money going down the drain.
He also mentioned high staff turnover at the ministry as the major contributing factor to faulty information keeping and filing which has caused the ministry to have completely no records to back up some audit queries.
The committee further queried the ministry’s delegation on how some items were purchased without being recorded and not accounted for during the period between July 2012 and May 2013. The purchases were estimated at K28.6 million and meant for the ministry’s headquarters.
Munlo said due to the challenges, millions of public funds cannot be traced without backing documentation.
He said: “We acknowledge that at the time of the audit, records for some of the stores items, which were procured during the period under audit, could not be traced. This is due to high staff turnover. We had vacancies at senior positions on record keeping and it affected the recording a lot.”
Among others, the ministry was also tasked to tell the committee why it was involved in irregular engagements with contractors where contracts were given without following tendering processes such as the K1.9 million worth of contract to Lily Lovely Flowers and Garden Corner.
The members of Parliament (MPs) also queried unrecorded fuel amounting to K71.8 million purchased during the period between June 2012 to June 2013 without being recorded in the fuel register, and payments to wrong account codes amounting to K313.6 million.
PAC chaiperson Alekeni Menyani asked the ministry to come up with a concrete report on the audit queries and report to the committee again explaining where the untraced funds could be.
Rumphi East MP Kamlepo Kalua (People’s Party-PP) expressed disappointment over the feared abuse of resources particularly the missing K19 million and called for disciplinary action.
Reacting to the query, the PS regretted the anomalies and said the ministry was working on rectifying the challenges, including through transferring of items from one financial account to another.
The queries come against the background of misappropriation of K293 million at the Malawi Embassy in Ethiopia which was siphoned from the public purse to personal bank accounts of some officers.
In November last year, a National Audit Office (NAO) preliminary review of use of funds in Malawi’s embassies showed an entrenched culture of flouting public finance management systems.
The report said about K538 million was mismanaged by way of ignoring set rules in the Public Finance Management Act of 2003. n