Chiradzulu district commissioner (DC) Memory Kaleso and her chief accountant have faced the wrath of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, which has sent them on a three-month paid leave on allegations of spending K170 million from the Other Recurrent Transaction(ORT) without authorisation.
Kaleso, whose suspension was communicated through a memo dated August 4 2017, signed by secretary for Local Government and Rural Development Kiswell Dakamau, faces investigation over her alleged failure to seek approval from neither council nor the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC).
The memo reads in part: “It has been reported to this ministry that you authorised the expenditure of funds meant for development of Chiradzulu District Council amounting to one hundred and seventy million (K170 000 000) to cater for ORT operations as the financial year 2016/2017 was coming to an end based on alleged fears that Treasury would withdraw the funding.
“I would like to inform you that the Minister, in exercise of his powers in line with Section 11(a) (2) of the 2010 Amended Local Government Act, has decided to grant you three months paid leave, effective August 4 2017, pending further investigations into the matter.”
Kaleso’s suspension comes hard on the heels of a revolt by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) councillors, who last year sealed her office.
Spokesperson for the ministry. Muhlabase Mughogho confirmed the development yesterday.
“Yes I can confirm that the ministry has taken that action on the financial issue at Chiradzulu District Council. The investigations will be conducted on the two officials.
However, the chief accountant’s issue is being handled by the Local Government Service Commission under the same conditions as the DC,” she said.
Asked how the ministry is dealing with rampant abuse of public funds in councils, Mughogho said besides reinforcements through training provided by the Malawi Local Government Association, the ministry was also suspending all officials implicated in financial scandals to pave the way for investigations.
But Kaleso when asked to confirm her suspension yesterday, she expressed surprise: “I am yet to get that letter, which you are referring to. I was not aware of any investigations or audit that have been taking place. In fact, I was just told that investigators will come to the council this coming Monday. As such I cannot comment much on a letter I have not seen.”
In March 2017 Dakamau threatened to dissolve Chiradzulu District Council at the height of an impasse in which DPP ward councillors blocked Kaleso’s office accusing her of working against their interest.
Political and social commentator Chimwemwe Tsitsi described the misuse and abuse of funds in councils as a malaise that the government had to decisively deal with. Said Tsitsi: “In my view, the frequency of reports on abuse of public funds is a worrisome sign that taxpayers’ money is not being prudently and efficiently utilised in many councils.
This calls for decisive action by the government. However, I should also point out that the fact that we are hearing of such things means that the systems laid down to check misuse and abuse of public funds are bearing fruits otherwise we would not have heard about it at all.”