By Vanani Nyirenda
When the issue of abuse of K6.2 billion Covid 19 funds made the rounds in Malawi’s spectrum in 2021, it ignited a public outcry to have anyone found to have alleviated their poverty by dipping their fingers in the funds while others were dying or struggling with illness to face the law.
So many Malawians succumbed to Covid-19 merely because the country’s ailing healthcare system could not cope with the situation owing to inadequate equipment, including PPEs which would have been procured had it been that the resources were not abused.
The Malawi govt through treasury released K6.2 billion to the response earmarked for activities to fight Covid19 in the health, education, labor clusters among others.
To show his concern President Lazarus Chakwera sanctioned a forensic audit in February 2021 to determine how the K6.2 billion was used to mitigate the effects of the raging coronavirus at the time.
Said Chakwera at the time: “I want all the thieves hiding in civil service to mark my words: if the finger of evidence points to you as one of the thieves who stole covid money for saving lives while hundreds of our people are dying of covid, you are going to prison.” The results of the forensic audit were shocking.
Over 720 million kwacha was spent irregularly and couldn’t be accounted for – from the amount, 490 million kwacha was misused in unguided procurement procedures, 80 million kwacha was deemed to have gone into people’s pockets through hefty allowances and 83 million kwacha was lost through unwarranted accounting processes.
In comparison, over 12 million kwachas were said to have vanished into thin air. The labour ministry abused K1.4 million of the covid19 funds. Some of the funds were used to foot the transportation costs for the then minister of labour Ken Kandodo to attend a meeting in South Africa.
However, Kandodo paid back the money and was swiftly fired from his position, raising false hopes that Chakwera was severe in the fight against graft.The Department of disaster management affairs was not spared in the audit report.
A sum of 11.7 million believed to have been cashed out by the department’s account personnel did not find its way into the department’s bank account, and 3 million kwacha was spent paying ghost workers.
The education sector blew 6 million kwacha on procurement of personal protective equipment where some prices were allegedly inflated.
Our investigations carried out in councils have shown that many primary schools especially those in the rural setting did not benefit from face masks which were meant to be distributed by the ministry of education.
Further no borehole has been drilled using the funds in most primary schools like in Mzimba district
The report also revealed unwarranted bureaucracy at the Ministry of Health, which had been allocated 1.6 billion from the 6.2 billion kwacha and the central medical stores, which led to delays in the procurement of vital equipment in the fight against the pandemic. Following the revelations of the forensic audit, the police swiftly arrested 60 people suspected to have dipped their fingers in the coffers meant to save life.
Most of those were civil servants, including district commissioners and chief executive officers for some city councils, but their cases collapsed while some were reinstated.However, almost two years since the arrests were effected, prosecution of the cases has gone cold.
Our investigations have shown that prosecution of the cases has collapsed despite President Chakwera blowing hot air on the matter. Malawians are in the dark as to progress in prosecuting the suspects. It is not known Whether some funds, except the repayment from the then minister of labor, have been recovered.
Institutions mandated to follow the conclusion of such cases are shifting the issue to each other. Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda says the office of the Director of Public Prosecution is better placed to comment on prosecuting those who were nabbed by the police.
Said the Attorney General, “Check with the DPP on this”
Director of Public Prosecution Masauko Chamkakala says that up to now, his office is yet to be furnished with the report on the progress of the cases.
“You know it’s over 60 people who were arrested by the police on these issues, and the police are yet to give me a report on the progress of the cases”, said Chamkakala when engaged on the matter.
However, the police are also being elusive on the matter.
Peter Kalaya is the National police spokesperson. When contacted numerous times, he kept telling us that he needed to consult other offices before commenting.
Said Kalaya, ” We, as the police, are responsible for prosecuting these cases, and we are still investigating “. When quizzed further on the fate of the investigations Kalaya said “Just say I asked for more time to comment”
But Accountability and governance experts have expressed concern over the failure of institutions mandated by law to prosecute those named and arrested following the audit.
Willy Kambwandira is the Executive Director of the Center for Social Accountability and Transparency – CSAT, a governance and accountability watchdog promoting engagement between citizens and policyholders in the country.
Kambwandira says failure to prosecute the cases paints a negative picture of the government’s efforts to stop the abuse of public resources.
According to Kambwandira, He believes the government is protecting some individuals from prosecution, describing the scenario as disappointing.
Said Kambwandira, ” It does not only question governments efforts in stopping abuse of public resources, but it also tells us that maybe government appears to be protecting some names of those involved in the plunder.
Sadly, this does not give confidence as far as the fight against corruption and abuse of public resources is concerned. If anything, this is a huge disappointment”
The CSAT boss is also dismayed by lack of action from those mandated to act on findings and recommendations in the audit reports.
Said Kambwandira, ” What we see is reluctance by institutions mandated to act on findings and recommendations from these audit reports, this is frustrating”
According to Kambwandira, the government, through the police, may have rushed in making the arrests of the 60 individuals suspected of abusing the K6.2 billion covid-19 funds, a thing which would result in lawsuits and loss of resources through compensations.
Said Kambwandira, ” Government should be acting on findings and recommendations from these audit reports, but most importantly, the public accounts committee of parliament it is their duty and role to act”.
Another governance expert, Wonderful Mkhuche, shares similar sentiments.
Said Mkhuche, ” Institutions like the office of the DPP, Attorney General’s Office, Parliaments public accounts committee and ACB are important when it comes to the fight against corruption, but their actions to this extent, in this particular issue, have been disappointing.
Mkhuche says these institutions have failed the countries citizens as they are mandated to serve the people and protect them from corruption.
The issue, according to Mkhuche, shows incompetence and the government’s lack of concern.
The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament chairperson, Mark Botomani did not pick up our calls for comment.Meanwhile, K17.27 billion, which President Chakwera announced in 2021 as to have been committed to the covid-19 fight, was also abused where individuals lined their pockets through allowances and unprocedural procurements with investigations into the use of the funds revealing that K3.8 billion was abused and mismanaged.