Ombudsman Martha Chizuma released a report titled “Misplaced Priorities” which is the first investigation in a series of investigations into allegations concerning lack of transparency and accountability in the implementation of Malawi’s National COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan.
The investigations are based on public outcry on lack of transparency and accountability by public institutions and officials on the utilisation of the funds meant for fight against COVID-19 pandemic. The public outcry was generally instigated and amplified by a leakage of a conversation of two former cabinet ministers on allowances for an activity trip related to COVID-19.
This first report, particularly focuses on activities implemented by the Co-ordination Cluster for the period between March to July 2020, with a budget of MK322,651,196 00. Subsequent reports will cover the remaining clusters under the National COVID-19 Response Plan.
The investigation, particularly, established the following acts of maladministration:
The opening of a separate account for receiving COVID-19 donations by the MoF was unjustified and created unnecessary administrative nightmare. MoF should have simply played oversight role concerning the funds in DoDMA account through the Secretary to the Treasury (ST) as provided for by the law;
- RBM acted illegally by departing from the conventional tools for price stability as provided for in the RBM Act (2018) to be able to make a MK6.2 billion donation towards the Covid-19 fight.
- RBM Irregularly categorised MK6.2 billion as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) donation and inappropriately channelled the funds through the Governor’s Account instead of the designated Gift and Donations Account;
- OPC irregularly equated the COVID-19 Response Taskforce to a Commission of Inquiry in determining payable allowances;
- Task Force Co-Chairperson omitted his duty to inform the public that the Taskforce started receiving allowances;
- The Task Force Co-Chairperson omitted her duty to put the suspension of the Taskforce allowances in writing;
- Payment of DSAs for more days than the actual days the officers would be genuinely required to work outside their normal duty stations was exploitative and irregular;
- Procuring obviously price inflated goods and liquidating the same without questioning responsible individuals or without seeking any clarification was a serious omission of duty;
- Purchasing lunch for meeting attendees who were paid full DSAs was irregular;
- Inviting a colleague who had been paid DSAs for meals at the hotel for meals paid by public funds was highly exploitative;
- Payment of a meal allowance not corresponding with any applicable government policy to an officer working on full board was irregular
- Assigning of a large numbers of officers for tasks which could ably be done by few officers was exploitative and irregular;
- Using a questionable receipt to justify a MK500, 000.00 payout from public funds without evidence of delivered goods anywhere is akin to fraud.
The report further makes directives and recommendations as follows:
The Taskforce co-chairpersons should put in writing the suspension of payment of the allowances, including reasons behind the suspension and such communication should be made public to satisfy the public’s legitimate interest to know the settlements of the Taskforce.
The OPC should develop separate policy guidelines for an allowances regime for taskforces such as the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and the entitlements should be commensurate with the service to be provided and reasonable taking into account the economy of the country.
The Secretary to the Treasury should close the Covid Relief and Response Account because it is redundant.
DoDMA should publish using radio and newspapers all cash and noncash donations that they received from March to July 2020 and how they were disbursed and utilised.
All participants who were served lunch while they had been paid DSAs during the National Coordination Meeting held in Mponela from 9th - 11th July, 2020 should refund costs of the lunch.
The officer who invited another officer for meals using public funds should refund cost of the meals and the money should be deposited into the Disaster Management Account.
DoDMA should discipline an officer who was responsible for procurement of Butex at MK995.00 and make sure that in future there are mechanisms to detect instances of bloated prices and responsible officers are held accountable.
The officer who last handled MK500, 000.00 meant for cleaning materials for Machinga DHO for reception of the returnees in June 2020 should pay back the money.
Source: Office of the Ombudsman, Malawi