Confusion between the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development as new managers of housing for medical doctors and Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) resulted in irregular and excess payment for rentals in the 2012/13 financial year, an audit has revealed.
The anomaly was disclosed yesterday when Ministry of Health (MoH) officials appeared before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to respond to audit queries relating to the ministry, including some specific to KCH.
Questions posed to MoH in the Auditor General’s report for the period ending June 30 2013 indicated that KCH made irregular rental payments amounting to K37.7 million whereas Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development made payments of K14.9 million, also for medical doctors.
According to the audit query, the transactions were contrary to circular letters reference numbers HRM/PA/04/3 and MH/CHS/17C which indicated that MoH through the central hospitals would no longer be responsible for the identification of houses and payment of rentals. The letters said the function was referred to Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.
In his response to the query on irregular payments, MoH Principal Secretary Dan Namarika said MoH obtained a waiver from the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development to rent houses for medical doctors through a circular.
On rental payments amounting to K16.8 million for doctors’ houses that could not be traced physically during the audit, Namarika said the list of houses was eventually presented to the Auditor General for inspection and verification. Auditor General Stephenson Kamphasa, who was present during the meeting, confirmed Namarika’s presentation.
MoH also allegedly paid about K1.9 million to a property agent between January and December 2013 for rentals of two houses, but the auditors found the houses vacant at the time of physical verification.
Besides, the audit also found that MoH paid K3 million rentals for a private house occupant, not a medical doctor, during the same period and made payments for house rentals in excess of approved rates.
Reads the query: “Could the controlling officer explain to the committee why K24.7 million in respect of doctors’ house rentals was paid in excess of the approved rates between March 2012 and October 2013?”
Namarika said it was correct that KCH went for houses that ended up costing government K24.7 million more because the subscribed rates for medical doctors would fetch poor quality houses in the city of Lilongwe.
However, Namarika’s response did not impress the Auditor General who said the controlling officer did not seek authority from the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development who regulate such issues before going ahead to agree to the rates.
In defence, Namarika agreed that when housing allowances were introduced, none of the medical doctors fell in the category of K150 000 per month which was for Grade A civil servants. He said the approved rates were not commensurate with the status of the specialist doctors.
Commenting on the queries, Zomba Chingale legislator Wallace Chawawa (People’s Party-PP) said they demonstrated poor management of houses allocated to doctors, especially at KCH.
In an interview later, Namarika explained that in 2012/13 there was transition of payment of house rentals from MoH (KCH and other central hospitals) paying directly to the property owners to the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.
Namarika said since this query, from 2013, all housing for civil servants was being managed by Ministry of Lands who were aware of ceiling for doctors and others.
“We want to motivate our doctors to stay in Malawi,” he said.
MoH has also requested from the Ministry of Lands a list of names of doctors occupying houses to compare with records in the custody of the desk officer. n