Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education Training Authority (Teveta) has splashed out and bought smart phones for its board of directors contrary to government regulations.
The Nation has established that early this month, Teveta management distributed to the authority’s board members 12 Samsung E5 series worth K2 million ($2 766.25).
By buying the phones that board members are not entitled to, Teveta apparently misallocated money that could have trained, as per the parastatal’s mandate, some jobless youths desperate for skills or help train workers of private companies that pay levies to the authority.
One board member, businessperson Newton Kambala, confirmed last week that he rejected the phone given to him because it was against Teveta policy and a violation of Section 4.5 of the Code of Conduct for Board of Directors of Statutory Corporations (CCBDSC).
Mobile phones are on the list of items that Section 4.5 of the CCBDSC prohibits statutory corporations from giving to their board members.
Other banned items under the code include official vehicles, provision of office with full secretarial services, medical scheme, loans and advances, security, gratuity and any other executive benefits.
However, Teveta proceeded to buy the 12 mobile phones and justified the expenditure this week by saying it would ease communication between the board and secretariat.
Teveta head of corporate affairs Lewis Msasa said: “The broad policy for any public sector authority like Teveta in matters of communication is very clear and this was deemed to be the best tool to use to enhance communication.”
He said each phone cost around K170 000 ($235) and that the authority spent K2 040 000 on the whole transaction.
Said Msasa: “Management is of the view that providing cell phones to board members would not constitute ‘freebies’ as the purpose was clearly provision of effective communication. This was done in the spirit of good corporate governance.”
Teveta board chairperson Gilbert Chilinde confirmed accepting the mobile phone because, he argued, Section 4.3.3 of CCBDSC entitles a board chairperson to cell phone allowance per month which, according to him, meant that it had to have an accompanying phone.
He said: “This implies that the chairperson ought to be served with a cellular phone for this provision to be meaningful. It is a fact that this is a public position and a chairperson cannot be using personal resources to discharge a public duty except the will, knowledge, time and energy in service of the public interest and the country otherwise one can lead own household into poverty. Based on that provision and reasoning, I accepted the phone, which in my view remains property of Teveta.”
The said section does say that board chairpersons would receive monthly cellular phone allowance of K42 000 ($59) for commercial government companies, K30 000 ($42) for semi-subvented bodies and K25 000 ($35) for wholly subvented institutions.
But Section of 4.5 of the same code expressly forbids allocating cellular phones to the board directors.
Chilinde said policies were not cast in stone, suggesting they can be varied according to circumstances—in this case the growing communication challenges between board and secretariat.
He said: “Exercising decision-making discretion as management is permissible in organisational management practice. Of course, the broad policy for any public sector authority like Teveta on communication issues is very clear, but management resolved that this decision passed the test to be the best tool to employ in enhancing communication between the secretariat and the directors of the board in tandem with this communication age.”
Chilinde said since the directors of the board, including the chairperson, were not entitled to have an office at the secretariat, communication becomes vital.
“For instance, I was once followed with documents in Mulanje where I was at [The Malawi] Polytechnic strategic planning workshop, but Teveta needed the documents signed urgently and delivered back to Lilongwe, making me spend half of the night signing and I managed to get them collected the next day,” he said.
When asked on the relevance of the document delivery and signing anecdote to the provision of the cellular phone, Chilinde refused to take further questions.
On his part, Kambala, who is president of the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI), said he felt it was “abnormal” for him to receive a cellular phone from Teveta.
“I was wondering why they gave me the phone because I was not an executive director there. It did not make sense as why Teveta should buy a phone for me. So, I called two senior managers from Teveta to find out if there was a policy that allows buying cellular phones for non-executive directors. And the answer was no,” he said.
Kambala said he was aware as a board member that the budget for the board was already overspent; “…and we are buying something which the board is not entitled to; it did not sound right for me.”
He said: “I did not ask the other board members to return the phones. It was my personal decision.”
Billy Banda, who has sat on boards of several parastatals, said it is important to understand the reasons or motive behind such gestures as showering phones on directors of boards.
“Take note that all directors are appointed to serve the interest of the shareholders who are ordinary citizens and government,” he said.
According to one board member, there was no board resolution adopting and authorising the irregular perks.
Efforts to seek policy clarity from the Department of Statutory Corporations were unsuccessful as officials were not available to speak on the matter.