We are still moving in circles in as far as public finance management and fighting drug pilferage are concerned. As regards to the former, the problem Malawi is facing largely emanates from government’s failure to timely audit its ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
The failure to do this has been costly to the Malawi government, to say the least. Most MDAs are audited on an ad hoc basis. Yet audits are supposed to be a regular undertaking in all MDAs to ensure public finances are properly accounted for, fraud is detected early and remedial action taken.
One reason fraud is entrenched in the MDAs is because people know it takes many years for institutions to be audited. And by the time an audit is conducted some officers have died or evidence has been lost. Rarely are fraudsters and thieves prosecuted and convicted for their malfeasance.
There is no question that regular and timely audits of its MDAs would enable government to discover fraud early and nip it in the bud.
We have it all on authority that one third of the country’s national budget goes down the drain unaccounted for. No wonder some donors have described the national budget a leaking bucket. Theft is so rampant in the civil service.
But it is not only theft of money that is rampant; drug pilferage is just as worrisome. Just recently, the US Ambassador to Malawi even threatened that her government would stop assisting Malawi with drugs if this heinous practice continued unabated.
Fraud and drug pilferage have been left to reach alarming levels that they now seem to have become the norm rather than anomalies in many circles. I was surprised two weeks ago when I visited a certain government office where I found someone openly selling antibiotics—amoxyl, fragyl and penicillin etc. This person did not know me but he did not care whether I could report him to some authorities for his illegal activities.
I thought about the source of the drugs and my conclusion was that it was a public health facility. Both the seller and the buyers did not mind about my presence. In other words, they all considered me part of the system. From the way the vendor was conducting his business, he made me conclude he was a regular in that institution and gave me the impression, if anything, I should mind my own business. I felt helpless about it. And when one of my help hands fell sick the other day, he asked for money to buy LA. I know the price of LA but he asked if I could give him one fifth of that because he could procure it at that low price not far from where he stays. Thank God I can now write about it and hopefully I am raising the alarm that this sore is festering.
I am glad that the Ministry of Health and the US government are in the process of setting up an anti-drug police unit to curb drug pilferage in public health institutions. One only hopes that one day drug pilferage will become history in the country’s public health facilities.
So it is not surprising to me that government wants the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) whose mandate is to investigate and prosecute corruption related cases to take over the fraud cases that have hit the embassies. Pure time wasting!
The fraud busting body rightly says fraud is not within its mandate. This is the same institution whose budget was cut during the mid-year budget review. But that is not the issue. The real issue here is that government should take the bull by its horns and do the needful. Government should simply fund the National Audit Office for the job.
I will not talk about the many unfinished businesses that government has to do in relation to fraud such as the K577 billion report. But suffice it to say that the longer it takes to audit the embassies—some of which have not been audited for many years—the more the chances of failing to curb fraud in the country’s embassies.