Malawi President Peter Mutharika has requested the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) to plead with donors currently withholding aid to Malawi to soften up and resume budgetary support, Nation on Sunday has learnt.
Mutharika, who had an audience with a PAC delegation at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre on November 22 this year to discuss various matters affecting the nation, said while government is trying its best to convince donors to recommence aid, it is imperative that PAC also engages the donors and convinces them to resume their aid.
The President, according to sources that attended the meeting, asked PAC to help government convince the donors to reopen the aid taps that were closed following the systematic plunder of public resources at Capital Hill in Lilongwe.
PAC publicity secretary Fr. Peter Mulomole, in an interview on Wednesday this week, confirmed Mutharika made the request to his organisation during the interface.
Said Mulomole: “Following that request from the HE [His Excellency], the PAC executive committee met last week Tuesday (December 9 2014) to discuss that, among other emerging issues.”
He said the executive committee resolved to first engage government officials that were tasked to oversee implementation of government’s 2014 action plan to improve public finance after the infamous Cashgate was exposed during former president Joyce Banda’s administration.
“You remember sometime after Cashgate was exposed, there was a road map that government put in place to address this problem. We want to find out if the action plan was fulfilled and what has been done so far.
“It will be from that premise that we would make a decision on how to engage the donors if we are to. Otherwise, we are ready to do so,” said Mulomole.
But even as PAC is willing to take up the advocacy role, the message from one of the major donors, Germany, this week was as follows: “With Cashgate [theft of public money], it became obvious that a resumption of general budget support and sector budget support would not be possible in the foreseeable future…”
Meanwhile, government has, according to Ministry of Finance spokesperson Nations Msowoya, fulfilled some of the listed items in the action plan “although the whole exercise may take government up to early 2016.”
Msowoya said the initial April 2014 action plan was revised after change of government and upon advice sought from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
He said the initial action plan had 200 items for implementation, which the new Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration “found unrealistic”; hence, a decision was made to concentrate on major items only.
Msowoya—who explained that the advice government received from IMF included thorough reconciliation of records in the financial management system and adherence to budget discipline by controlling officers—disclosed that government has engaged former and first Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director Gilton Chiwaula as adviser to government on the matter to lead the implementation process of the action plan.
In a response to a questionnaire when Nation on Sunday sought reactions on several issues and if consideration to resume aid could be made following some commitments government has made, including arrest and conviction of some Cashgate suspects, Germany Ambassador Peter Woeste said his country’s aid withdrawal was a reaction to weak financial governance that happened long before Cashgate.
“It is the overall picture that counts. We have to prove to the German Parliament and the German taxpayer that every Euro and cent of their hard-earned money is being put to its intended and agreed use to alleviate poverty in Malawi.
“This is not a mere question of the status of the judicial follow-up of Cashgate cases. It is about a thorough reform of the public financial and economic management in Malawi, about instituting budgetary control, a strong accountability system and a culture of compliance with laws and regulations,” said the envoy.
He said Germany agreed with the Malawi Government to reprogramme the frozen funding in order to be able to make it available to the Malawian people.
Woeste said his country channelled its education budget into the procurement of teaching and learning materials while the general budget support funding was channelled towards procurement of vaccines for children and pregnant women.
Germany, he said, also supports Malawi in the strengthening of public economic and financial management system. He said an additional funding of 7 million euros (about K4 billion) for this purpose had already been made available in direct response to Cashgate at the end of 2013.
Another major donor, Britain, could not be reached for comment this week as the country’s High Commissioner Michael Nevin had not responded to a questionnaire sent last Tuesday.
But Chancellor College political scientist Dr Blessings Chinsinga described Mutharika’s move as a sign of government’s failure to communicate to donors and Malawians about what it is doing to win back donor confidence.
Chinsinga said Mutharika is trying to use a broad base strategy by engaging bodies such as PAC when government’s communication strategy is poor.
“A successful government must maintain constant conversation with its people, a thing that is lacking in this government and the previous one,” he said.
But a governance expert, Dr Augustin Magolowondo, said the President’s move to ask PAC to engage donors signifies PAC’s role in facilitating dialogue.
“The role of PAC is to facilitate dialogue on public issues, [and] donor aid freeze are issues of public concern…I see nothing wrong with the President seeking PAC’s help because this only confirms the role of PAC,” said Magolowondo, arguing that it is up to the donors and government to trust PAC.
Donor withdrawal of budgetary support, which constitutes about 40 percent of the national budget, has crippled operations of government after it was forced to adopt a zero-aid budget whose effects are being felt as the kwacha continues to lose ground against major foreign currencies.
Apart from PAC, Mutharika has been meeting several organisations, including the Malawi Law Society (MLS) and the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), to discuss issues besetting the nation.