At a time legislators are pushing for an increase in Constituency Development Fund (CDF), 20 lawmakers in the last cohort of Parliament are scot-free despite mismanaging K80 million in 2014/15 and 2015/16 fiscal year.
The K80 million was part of the K3 billion CDF for the two years.
Former minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe told Parliament in 2017 that at least 20 members of Parliament (MPs) were suspected of mismanaging CDF meant for projects at grass roots level and risked arrest and prosecution. Gondwe did not name the suspects.
He told our sister newspaper The Nation then that as government they wanted to ensure that the suspects were brought to book and prosecuted.
The then minister of Local Government Kondwani Nankhumwa also promised that appropriate action would be taken against legislators suspected to have abused development funds.
According to a special audit report issued by the Central Internal Audit Unit, dated June 15 2017, the 20 MPs were from 14 of the 28 councils, namely Karonga, Chitipa, Nkhotakota, M’mbelwa, Lilongwe, Dowa, Mangochi, Ntcheu, Chiradzulu, Machinga, Lilongwe City, Nsanje, Chikwawa and Neno.
Records at the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) show that only former Zomba Malosa legislator Anderson Undani—who was not among the 20 MPs mentioned in the Special Audit Report—was arrested in 2018 and successfully prosecuted for abusing CDF money after the bureau received a complaint from a constituent. He was sentenced, last year, to 18 months in jail.
In the same year, ACB also arrested and successfully prosecuted former Mzimba Hora lawmaker Christopher Mzomera Ngwira, now serving a four-year jail term, for abusing Local Development Fund (LDF)—another local financing arm for grass roots projects administered by councils.
Although district commissioners are controlling officers of the CDF account, money cannot be used without the area’s MP authorising its use and signing for it, a role the legislators take advantage of by influencing choice of projects and disbursement of the funds.
Meanwhile, MPs have also proposed to have a bigger say on the CDF and a motion was tabled in the House during the just-ended 49th Session to move the administration of CDF from local councils to MPs with effect from the 2021/2022 financial year.
But an umbrella body of councils in the country—Malawi Local Government Association (Malga)—while faulting Parliament for sitting on the recommendations of the Special Audit Report for over three years, observed that the current horizontal accountability mechanisms for MPs on CDF is faulty and defeats the principle of segregation of duties.
Malga acting executive director Hadrod Mkandawire in an interview said on Wednesday:
“We have a constitutional body of Parliament one of whose core functions is to provide oversight role on public finance management. This oversight role is achieved through committees such as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), and here is a report damning MPs who may be members of the committee and calling for their prosecutions over allegations of abusing CDF.”
In a telephone interview this week, PAC chairperson Shadreck Namalomba attributed the failure to arrest and prosecute the affected MPs to what he described as “internal politics” and “self interests”.
He explained that lawmakers have for a long time tactfully avoided discussing or implementing any sticky recommendations, including naming the individual culprits.
Said Namalomba: “We now want to have a meeting with the Secretary to President and Cabinet Zanga-Zanga Chikhosi on how the Executive can take up this matter of disciplining the individuals who abused the funds.”
He said after scrutinising the special audit report in March last year, his committee also recommended that all wrong doers who misused the funds should face disciplinary action.
Reads the report presented to Parliament in February this year: “That there should be clearly stipulated guidelines on how to reprimand members of Parliament that misuse CDF or interfere with the operations of the councils …that all individuals who were found in the wrong on CDF should face necessary disciplinary actions.”
According to Namalomba, due to the same politics, MPs during the last session, again prioritised discussions on a report by an ad hoc parliamentary committee on reviewing the current CDF guidelines and paid little attention to the report by PAC.
Despite PAC recommending that Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development should reprimand MPs interfering with CDF activities, the ministry’s spokesperson Anjoya Mwanza said the legislators are under the National Assembly, therefore, it is better placed to discipline them.
Some of the major findings in the special report included 307 projects implemented without project identification; 322 projects without bills of quantities; lack of evidence of monitoring of 205 projects and that project materials valued at K99.9 million were not recorded in the stores ledgers.
Other findings show that over K900 000 was spent on printing of mock exams for Mpatsa Zone in Nsanje, an activity not part of CDF projects, following the community’s pressure for the MP to assist.
In Dowa, K4 150 000 was used for fuel and allowances for workshop activities not part of the fund.
Findings also showed that goods and services worth K194.1 million were procured without approval by the internal procurement committee (IPC), while goods and services worth K6.8 million had retrospective approvals by IPC.
The report also found that materials valued at K215.3 million for 30 projects were either not delivered or were delivered in wrong specifications or with defects.