The Ombudsman’s report on how the National Covid-19 Preparedness and Response Plan was implemented has revealed grave maladministration of funds by the Coordination Cluster of the Presidential Taskforce.
The taskforce comprises the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) and the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma).
According to the report, the cluster used 79.8 percent of its allocation of K322 659 196 for allowances, telephone charges and what the report described as unnecessary payments.
Ombudsman Martha Chizuma questioned Dodma on how it authorised the money from its Cluster’s allocation for allowances only and whether the coordination cluster understood the purpose of the Covid-19 fund which was financed by local and international public and private institutions.
“Our investigations established that some people who were given daily subsistence allowances (DSA) were eating in hotels on bills were paid by the fund. Some officers were getting allowances for the days they never worked for. Why huge telephone costs when these people were meeting every week, who were they calling?” wondered Chizuma.
The report quotes allowances structure as T&T of K414.3 per kilometer for members outside public service, professional allowance of K50 000 for chairperson, K45 000 for members and K30 000 for the Secretariat.
In addition, the report says chairperson, members and the Secretariat were each drawing K10 000 meal allowance where accommodation is provided and it further reveals that the chairperson was drawing K40 000 for airtime while members were getting K20 000 and Secretariat K15 000 for airtime and an additional K7 000 duty allowance for Secretariat and support staff.
“This kind of salary scale is for a Commission of Inquiry that is appointed by the President from time to time but Chief Secretary, then Loyd Muhara directed in a memo dated May 12 2020 that task force members should use the same which is wrong,” Chizuma.
The report further queried some goods Dodma purchased saying they were overpriced.
“For example, Dodma had purchased Butex soap of undisclosed size at K995 per tablet when the counter price for the same is K450. All factors considered, the price could not have increased by 100 percent,” reads the report.
Another anomaly the report points out is that a receipt for some goods was issued to two districts, Zomba and Machinga yet goods were only supplied to Zomba and Dodma issued payments for both receipts.
“Our investigations also found that a REF General Dealers receipt No 153 dated June 17 2020 was issued to Zomba and Machinga with similar type of goods. The supplier admitted to have supplied the goods to Zomba DHO but not Machinga. Machinga DHO denied receiving any money from Dodma or any of the goods on the receipt,” reads the report.
But Chizuma said records show that Dodma paid K500 000 for the said goods which Balaka DHO also denied receiving.
According to the report, Dodma lied to the nation when it denied funds requested by Blantyre City Council (BCC) for Kameza Isolation centre which was later closed due to lack of operational funds.
The report says Dodma told BCC that its account was empty but during enquiries with the Ministry of Finance, it was revealed that the account had funds at that particular time.
In response, Dodma deputy director of Disaster and Recovery Dyce Nkhoma said the department will respond after scrutinising the report.
“We will sit down as a department to scrutinise the report. We can’t comment much since we are hearing it for the first time,” said Nkhoma.
The report also faulted the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) for violating its own rules by making an ‘unjustified’ donation of K6.2 billion to the Covid-19 fund through Dodma account.
Minister of Information Gospel Kazako said he needed to study the report first to see if the findings are about the current or previous taskforce.
“Remember there was a taskforce which was instituted by the former president Professor Peter Mutharika which is no longer there because the current president Dr Lazarus Chakwera instituted another taskforce. So I can’t rush into commenting without knowing which taskforce was investigated,” said Kazako.
Director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Reyneck Matemba asked for time to look at the report before commenting on it.
“I have just come out of the court, so I haven’t seen the report and I can’t give you a sound comment without knowing the contents,” said Matemba.
But Chizuma said the inquiry was instituted following a leaked video clip in which two Cabinet ministry were filmed discussing allowance issues, the closure of Kameza isolation centre in Blantyre and the leaked documents about hefty allowances for Cabinet ministers, members of Parliament and other stakeholders in the fight against Covid-19.
A Centre for Social Accountability expert Willy Kambwandira urged the concerned parties to take note of their faults and take appropriate action.
“This is serious especially when we are talking about eradicating corruption, public institutions need to practice prudence in what they do so that they maintain public trust,” said Kambwandira.
On 20 March 2020, former president Peter Mutharka appointed a special Cabinet committee on Covid-19 to lead, support and coordinate efforts against Covid-19.