The Office of the Ombudsman is set to launch a complex investigation into how millions of public funds disbursed through various development funds were used in the past five years.
The office, which is mandated to investigate and address malpractices in public offices, plans to focus on tracking how public funds were used through Local Development Fund (LDF), Constituency Development Funds (CDF) and other channels.
The move by the Ombudsman comes at a time the public protector has received complaints from two members of Parliament (MPs). The legislators have complained about possible abuses of funds in various local councils, according to documents we have seen.
In separate interviews yesterday, both Ombudsman Martha Chizuma and the office’s spokesperson Arthur Semba confirmed about the pending investigation.
Said Chizuma: “We received complaints from two members of Parliament relating to use of development funds in their respective constituencies. My office then reviewed National Audit Office reports on accounts for city and district councils for the period 2013/14 to 2017/18 where again most of these issues were also picked out.”
She said her office has already reviewed some of the complaints and made preliminary findings which indicate that funding towards most district councils was not used for intended purposes; hence, require further investigation.
In a letter dated October 14 2019 addressed to Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Principal Secretary Charles Kalemba, the Ombudsman observed that the situation in the district and city councils “speaks volumes of systematic failure in management” of the development funds. She said the issue affects all Malawians.
The Ombudsman further said the investigation will specifically focus on issues surrounding improper use of development funds, failure to follow procurement procedures, procurement of substandard equipment, failure to work diligently as revealed by procuring of goods and services above expected and reasonable prices and procurement of expired goods, failure to account for funds revealed in non-existent projects and failure to enforce project standards.
Further, the probe will also investigate failure to provide information to the public and project beneficiaries on the budget and procured items and failure to discipline officials allegedly involved in the said acts of maladministration.
The Ombudsman’s probe comes against a background of concerns raised by various donors and non-governmental organisations relating to accountability of funds channelled through local government councils.
In an interview yesterday, Oxfam Malawi country director Lingalireni Mihowa, whose organisation has conducted various studies on tracking funds channelled to local government, welcomed the development as “a positive step forward”.
She said: “Oxfam welcomes the investigation that the Ombudsman would like to make in the alleged abuse of LDF, CDF and DDF [District Development Fund].
“The move by the Ombudsman will bridge the gap that we have been observing as Oxfam that quite a lot of rot is being reported, but there are no serious sanctions or repercussions for the wrong doers.”
Mihowa said Oxfam hopes that the culprits will be brought to book and the country needs to review the funding modalities.
In 2017, a special investigation by Nation Publications Limited (NPL) also revealed cases of mismanagement in various district councils.
Weekend Nation investigations revealed that at least half of the projects implemented under LDF, CDF and DDF were incomplete despite millions of kwacha disbursed for the same. Ironically, the Ombudsman’s move also comes at a time several National Audit Office audits exposed abuse of funds in local councils. However, no controlling officer has been taken to book as provided in both the Public Finance Management Act and National Audit Act.