Labour Commissioner Hlalerwayo Kelvin Nyangulu has defended the decision to borrow K1.4 million from the ministry’s project account on Covid-19, which he, and Minister Ken Kandodo used as allowances on a trip to South Africa last year, saying such transactions are normal in government.
In an interview yesterday, Nyangulu, while confirming that the money had been paid back, insisted that no wrong-doing had taken place as there was no theft, wondering why people were blowing the matter out of proportion, yet the amount involved “is small”.
The K1.4 million, which they two received as allowances while accompanying President Lazarus Chakwera to South Africa in October 2020, was part of the controversial K6.2 billion Covid-19 fund, whose audit has shown gross abuse.
Having borrowed the money last October, the two only paid it back on February 24 2021, yet that money was supposed to be used by end of December 2020; repayment was also finalised after an audit on the K6.2 billion had been instructed.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and legal expert Professor Danwood Chirwa have wondered why officials would divert money from an emergency fund, saying it smacks of continued abuse of resources; hence he demanded action against the two.
An audit into the funds showed that Nyangulu pocketed K829 170 while Kandodo got K613 587.47 in allowances.
Reads part of the audit: “An inspection of payment vouchers along other supporting documents revealed that the Ministry used Covid-19 funds amounting to K1 224 757.37 initiated by HKK Nyangulu (Labour Commissioner) and approved by Mr Dickson Chunga (Secretary for Labour) to finance a foreign trip by the Minister of Labour and Labour Commissioner, HKK Nyangulu who were part of HE’s delegation to the Republic of South Africa.
“It was indicated that the management would refund the amount from Other Recurrent Transactions. As at the date of audit, the refund was yet to be made.”
Nyangulu, in an interview, confirmed such borrowing, but said it was normal in government where money is taken from project accounts and re-paid from Other Recurrent Transactions (ORT) once it is made available.
Said Nyangulu: “I can confirm that the money was repaid, and it’s not from an individual’s account, it’s from government’s ORT to the project on Covid-19, which is also in the Ministry of Labour. It was paid through the Covid-19 account because the other one did not have money that time.
“The trip took place, there was no theft involved, and money was borrowed from the project account and has been refunded. These things are not unusual, when there is no money on end, you get it from somewhere, as long as there is paper trail, so it’s something which is straight forward.”
For Nyangulu, this ‘was not even an issue’, wondering why people were blowing it out of proportion, taking time to explain why it had taken them long for the money to be paid back.
“Seriously, out of all this mess, can we concentrate on this? Is it because it is involving the minister? As a person, my image is also being dented. Because of accountability, that is why we said the money has to be paid back because it was borrowed money. That was mid-November, and in December we went for Christmas.
“Then in January, a second wave of Covid-19 came, it took too many people, we were almost idle. It was end January that we said can we pay back this money, and the process to pay is not like you write a loose minute today and then tomorrow it is paid, it is a long process and we explained to the auditors and told them that we had started the process of paying back.”
But HRDC chairperson Gift Trapence wondered why it took the two almost five months to repay the money, further questioning the rationale behind borrowing money from an emergency fund.
Said Trapence: “This is taking Malawians for granted. That money was released because of the Covid-19 crisis, it was very reckless to get money from the same pot which was supposed to serve a crisis. So, you put in money one end, and siphon it the other end and justify it while people were languishing in hospitals?
“Simply put, they did not have the best interest of Malawians at heart. Actually, they only thought of paying back the money after citizens raised queries. These are issues that Chakwera should take up. All officers who did not adhere to principles of financial management must face the law.”
Malawian professor of law at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Danwood Chirwa argued that Covid-19 funds were disbursed for no purpose than feeding patronage networks and as soft bribes to some connected government employees and elected and appointed officials.
He said the funds provided the first opportunity for plunder by this government, arguing, “only a small fraction of the funds was directed to hospitals and clinics for medical care”.
Decried Chirwa: “It is most disturbing that such a thing has happened. It shows, first of all, that there is no system for controlling the use of government funds, and that senior government officials participate in the misuse. For all that has been spent and wasted, there’s absolutely nothing to show.
“This is why sending a clear message from the top that abuse of State funds will not be tolerated helps. If people get fired or held accountable by political leaders first and the government adequately supports the crime fighting agencies, then there’s a chance. Definitely, none in our current situation.”
The audit report, among others, has recommended that those officers who took part in the malpractices, which resulted in the loss of funds, should pay back the money and that the government must ensure that all malpractices that are criminal in nature should be handed over to law enforcement agencies for further attention and action.
Minister of Information Gospel Kazako earlier said the report shows that President Chakwera is committed to transparency and accountability.