The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has fired 68 officers over their alleged involvement in a fraudulent scheme that saw some staff getting more than their salary and allowance entitlements.
Investigations by the Central Internal Audit (CIA), the government’s internal auditors under the Ministry of Finance, revealed that the said fraud cost taxpayers about K166 million between 2012 and 2014 through dubious salary payments.
In a written response to a questionnaire The Nation sent last week on the issue, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development spokesperson Osborne Tsoka said the 68 have been dismissed and their cases have since been referred to the Attorney General’s office for further direction regarding prosecution.
He said: “It is true that 68 officers have been relieved of their duties. Most of the officers are on Grade K with four officers on Grade I and only one on Grade G.”
In a telephone interview yesterday, Attorney General Charles Mhango confirmed receiving a file from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, but said he needed time to go through it first as he was new in the office.
He said: “I haven’t gone through the file yet, but yes, I have received it. The Civil Service Commission made its recommendations.”
To avoid a recurrence of similar malpractices in future, Tsoka said the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has developed a new method of processing salaries.
He said: “A new method of developing salaries has been put in place, changing from what we call system to system and replaced with the ATS [Automated Transfer System].”
According to a dismissal letter The Nation has seen, the action is effective June 15 2017 and that salaries withheld during the interdiction period from March 16 2016 have been forfeited.
The ministry lost the bulk of the money, K131.2 million through accounts personnel inflating individuals’ salaries.
The report says the ministry lost at least K25 million to paying arrears no one claimed and that around K6.5 million disappeared through the same arrears paid several times (recurring) while K1.75 million was in excess of ‘rightful amounts claimed’ whereas at least K1 million went to suspected ghost workers and K285 000 were excess leave grants.
The fraud happened at the ministry’s headquarters in Lilongwe, some research stations and Agriculture Development Divisions (ADDs).
Reacting to the action, Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) executive director Dalitso Kubalasa said it was “a welcome development” in as far as setting the right pace for sanctioning malpractices and bad behaviours was concerned.
In recent years, Malawi has been riddled with reports of civil servants stealing public funds. Towards the end of 2015, Ministry of Health suspended 63 health workers for misusing funds meant for an HIV and Aids project sponsored by the United States of America’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC).