Officials in the Ministry of Water Development and Irrigation are still collecting high rate hotel accommodation and sitting allowances despite government’s directive to implement new guidelines for daily subsistence allowances, Weekend Nation has established.
Secretary for Department of Human Resource Management and Development (DHRMD) Sam Madula issued a circular in January advising all principal secretaries and heads of departments about the revision and harmonisation of daily subsistence allowance and reimbursement of transport costs for donor-funded workshops, seminars and field trips in Malawi.
According to the circular, dated January 7 2014, no sitting allowances are supposed to be paid while accommodation is supposed to be paid directly by the organisers to the hotel within the limit of K35 000 per person per night or institution’s negotiated corporate rate in case of direct payments to the hotel.
It further says in case of field trips, the organisers shall cover the actual costs but when such payment is deemed not feasible, allowances for meals and accommodation might be paid at these rates: K2 300 for lunch, K3 500 for dinner and K12 800 for accommodation if the event is taking place in Blantyre, Karonga, Kasungu, Lilongwe, Mangochi, Mzuzu, Nkhata Bay, Nkhotakota, Salima and Zomba.
The new guidelines say K1 700 for lunch, K2 500 for dinner and K6 000 for accommodation would be applicable when field trips are taking place in all other areas apart from the cited towns and cities.
However, four months down the line, it has transpired that officials at the Water Ministry are still collecting allowances as per the old system where they would be paid money equivalent to the cost of accommodation in the most expensive hotel in the area where the event is taking place.
Sources at the ministry revealed that the circular has not been implemented as officers collect allowances every time they are on field trips or attending events outside Lilongwe.
One source cited a recent trip to Mzuzu during which he said officers collected about K341 000 each for five days while support staff were given K36 000 for six days.
Said a source: “The circular is very clear on the new guidelines but surprisingly, some officials are still sticking to the old system where one would collect high rate of the hotel accommodation. What is happening is that when going to Blantyre, they collect allowances equivalent to the cost of the most expensive hotel. This is still happening right now.
“For donor funded project allowance, a PS up to grade TO, they take high rate of the hotel accommodation plus K4 250 sitting allowance while supporting staff only get a flat rate of K6 000 per day.”
But the ministry’s spokesperson James Kumwenda in a questionnaire response said they received the circular on March, 11 2014 and observed that it was not clear in most of its provisions, thus the ministry decided to seek clarity before implementing it.
“Upon critically going through the circular, the ministry’s management observed that the circular was not clear in most of its provisions. A good example being the actual meaning of the word ‘the participants’ of an event and mission,” Kumwenda said.
“The circular is also silent on what entitlements different grades of officers or support staff would be entitled to for the field visits or other events as the circular just uses the word ‘Participants’. You may also find out that most of the quoted allowances are out of touch with the local commodity pricing, hence, there would be need for a reality check for sustainable implementation of the content and context of the circular,” he added.
Kumwenda said much as the ministry is obliged to implement the directives issued in the circular, management agreed to first seek clarity from the DHRMD where the circular originated from.
“Management, therefore, agreed that until DHRMD provides clarity on the issues the ministry has raised, the ministry will continue implementing its activities based on the government circulars and agreements with donors prior to the circular reference number Ref.No.HRM/ALL/01/(3) of 7th January, 2014,” he said.
Kumwenda disputed claims that the ministry was still paying sitting allowances, saying it only gives out “out-of-pocket allowance” where officers on field trips (and not workshops) opt for full board at a hotel.
“However, considering that according to the government policy, only officers are provided with accommodation, while support staff are provided with a flat [daily allowance] of either K 6 000 or K8 000 (depending on their grade), the ministry is providing such allowances to all support staff until the raised issues identified in the said circular have been sorted out…this circular has posed a great challenge and can risk smooth implementation of project activities, which may lead to poor progress,” he said.
DHRMD spokesperson Rudo Kayira said the department does not have an oversight role over government ministries since the responsibility to enforce rules and regulations that government issues through circulars lies with controlling officers.
Said Kayira: “When the government issues such circulars, it depends on the various controlling officers to enforce the regulations.”
Ministry of Finance spokesperson Nations Msowoya said on Thursday, Treasury was not aware that the ministry was not adhering to the guidelines stipulated in the January circular.
He, however, said Treasury’s expectation is that when such directives are issued through circulars, controlling officers would take full responsibility of ensuring full implementation.
“In respect of the circular you are talking about, our expectation was that all public offices that are implementing donor funded projects will implement it just like us, we are implementing it. Although we are not aware of these allegations as Treasury, Ministry of Finance will liaise with Central Internal Audit Unit in the OPC so that they can follow up this matter,” said Msowoya.