The Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament has given MRA till Thursday to explain the authorityâ€™s borrowing of about K30 billion from banks to cover up a revenue collection shortfall.
The committee gave the directive after a Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) management team, led by Commissioner General Lloyd Muhara, that was summoned to Lilongwe on Tuesday, indicated they were not ready with an explanation on the scam.
Ironically, the team requested the committee to chase journalists out of the meeting despite such fora requiring full media coverage.
At the start of the session, MRA head of finance David Loga presented a 2011/12 tax revenue report which showed that by the end of April, MRA failed to meet its target by K18 billion. On the other hand, MRA director of policy and research Rosa Mbilizi presented tax plans for the forthcoming 2012/13 fiscal year due to start on July 1 2012.
After the presentations and questions from the committee members, Muhara asked chairperson Eunice Napolo to have the discussions held in camera.
Said Muhara: “The reason [is that] as you are aware, there has been a lot of communication in the media on some of these figures and we think it will only be fair if the discussions are held in camera.â€
His request was granted despite the chairperson citing parliamentary standing orders that stipulate that all committee meetings should be open to the public unless otherwise decided by the committee.
With journalists out, the committee reportedly asked the MRA team to explain the K30 billion scam but Muhara told the members that his team was not yet ready with any explanation.
Hardly minutes into the closed meeting, some committee members started walking out, starting with the chairperson herself, who was not feeling well.
Said Balaka South MP George Nnensa who in February this year blew the whistle on the scam: â€œActually, at the moment, there isnâ€™t much to discuss. Their presentation was very short. They said they are not yet ready to discuss that issue.â€
He was the third to walk out of the meeting, saying he had other issues to attend to.
But Nnensa expressed concerns on Muharaâ€™s move to bar journalists.
“What MRA does is supposed to be public information and I didnâ€™t agree with them chasing the members of the media.â€
Another member to walk out was Mzimba East MP Abbie Shaba who said the committee gave MRA up to Thursday to explain the figures.
Committee vice-chairperson Godfrey Mbuzi, in an interview after the meeting, refused to commit himself on whether the MRA team would return on Thursday.
“Yes, they told us that they are not prepared for the issue and we told them that once they are ready with the explanation, we can set another date,” he said.
Apart from Loga and Mbilizi, the MRA team also included deputy commissioner general Chrispin Kulemeka and head of legal services and company secretary Felix Tambulasi.