Details have emerged that Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has been drawing funds from some of the country’s foreign missions to buy air tickets and pay external travel allowances for its senior officials.
Communication that The Nation has seen shows that the ministry’s principal secretary (PS) Dalitso Kabambe has been instructing the embassies to draw funds from the Deposit Account to facilitate such payments.
The ministry’s spokesperson Rejoice Shumba, in a written response last night, justified the claims from the Embassy, saying the PS acted within the law as under the Budget Law and Appropriations Act, all resources appropriated by Parliament under Vote 260 are under his office’s custody.
In a space of five days last month, Kabambe wrote the Malawi Embassy in Berlin, Germany instructing the Ambassador to withdraw from the account $19 338 (about K13.5 million).
The money was meant for air tickets and external travel allowances for Kabambe himself, his minister Francis Kasaila and two other officers—Suzgo Mandala and Loyce Merrick, according to an authorisation letter signed by the PS.
On May 27 2016, the PS authorised the ambassador to draw $4 480 to pay eight-day external allowances for Kabambe ($1 600) at the rate of $200 per day and $1 440 each to Merrick and Mandala at $180/day.
The three are reportedly scheduled to travel to Mozambique to attend the Extra-ordinary meeting of the Ministerial Committee on the Organ (MCO) from June 23 to 28 2016.
However, the letter does not indicate air fares the embassy was to pay for the three officials’ trip from Malawi to Mozambique.
Four days later, according to a letter Reference number EA/1/4/36 also signed by Kabambe, the embassy was also authorised to release $14 858 from the same Deposit Account to pay for external travel allowances, telephone allowances and upgrade air tickets for Kabambe again and the minister.
However, unlike in the first communication, the letter only indicates that the two officials will take five days, but does not indicate the destination or business.
The breakdown of the requested funds is as follows: $50 as upgrading fees from $5 319 to $5 369 per person amounting to $10 738.
This could be a typical case where senior government officials, despite the austerity measures in place, would still want to travel even where there are no funds for their trips.
But on this trip, Kabambe is claiming $300 ($1 500 for five days) while the minister’s rate is put at $450 per day totalling $2 200 in addition to $350 telephone allowance.
As we went to press, The Nation could not independently verify whether the said funds had already been paid to the concerned officials.
However, consumer rights activist and social commentator John Kapito expressed suspicion with the transactions and has called for an immediate inquiry into the ministry’s operations.
Ironically, the PS has advised the embassy to make the $10 738 payment in a travel agent bank account held at Bank De Kigali in Rwanda.
According to our Internet research, the travel agent, Satguru Travels, is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) but has several corporate representatives, including Malawian Airlines.
According to a former diplomat who did not want to be named, the Deposit Account keeps funds for special purposes and could not be easily drawn without an authority from Treasury.
But when contacted for comment on the development, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe referred The Nation back to the responsible ministry.
He said: “That does not concern the Ministry of Finance.”
Kasaila and Kabambe are currently in New York, United States of America (USA) for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) high level meeting on HIV and Aids which starts today and ends on Friday.
Shumba said the transaction is normal and is part of a longstanding tradition that happens when the ministry headquarters does not have funds due to other factors.
She said: “This [the allocation] covers the Ministry Headquarters and all its cost centres, the 19 embassies and three consulates. This is why the Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is the one who is answerable to Parliament on all matters of audits and audit queries both for the Ministry Headquarters Cost Centre and all other Embassies and Consulates.”
Kapito, who is Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director, alleged what was happening was not different from what happened at Malawi’s mission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where about K293 million was allegedly embezzled.
He said: “How do we heap our money in embassies and then start playing around with it when that side? How do you authorise the payments leaving Account Number One here where the authority is and start issuing instructions to pay for your travels?”
Following the revelations of fraud in Ethiopia, government suspended three officials pending investigations. n