K875m ‘looters’ risk prosecution

The National Audit Office (NAO) has warned that culprits in the missing K875 million Centre for Disease Control (CDC) funding to the Ministry of Health (MoH) risk prosecution if the ministry fails to enforce discipline and recover the money.

Auditor General Stephenson Kamphasa made the declaration in Lilongwe yesterday following an outcry from Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that MoH was moving at a snail’s pace to act on civil servants who abused money from the United States of America (USA) Government agency meant for HIV and Aids interventions.

Kamphasa: This was theft

He said the controlling officer will be given a chance to recover the money or discipline the individuals involved, adding that if this failed, the matter would be referred to law enforcement agencies such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) or the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Said Kamphasa: “This was theft and I would want the controlling officer to deal with the matter, but if he [the controlling officer] fails, we will do a forensic audit and the results will be referred to the law enforcement agencies. If the Ministry of Justice can carry out its job, this is a winnable case.”

The Auditor General’s report for the year ending June 30 2016 found that K399 million in allowances was paid to officers whose names could not be traced; K265 million in allowances was paid to officers who were not bona fide civil servants while K61.5 million was paid to non-deserving staff.

Young boys wait to undergo voluntary medical male circumcision which is one of the funded by CDC

The audit also found that accounts and human resource staff pocketed K5.3 million after disguising themselves as medical personnel and attended voluntary male medical circumcision training sessions, clinical trainings and antiretroviral therapy (ART) and prevention of mother to child (PMTCT) refresher trainings.

To date, 827 people have been traced in the scam out of over 2 718 an audit identified as being behind the theft and fraud.

MoH Principal Secretary Dr Dan Namarika said the ministry has started acting on the culprits, including interdictions and recovery of the money.

He said to date K9 million has been recovered out of K61.5 million the audit found was paid to non-deserving staff under the CDC/Malawi Government Cooperation Agreement.

Namarika said the 827 people have so far been categorised into grades for service commissions to call them for disciplinary hearings.

He said: “There are cases that are clear theft and others that we need to hear their sides of the story. Already, we are seeing results and by end of March we will have made significant inroads in the disciplinary action.”

MoH has interdicted 38 people in connection with the K5.3 million in allowances which went to non-medical personnel while 58 people are under investigation for transposing their designations when signing for allowances amounting to K12.9 million.

Namarika said not all the 58 who transposed their designations did this with the intention to defraud the government but might have been victims of multi-tasking which was common in MoH.

But Kamphasa observed that the officers “wanted to cheat and pretended to be medical personnel”.

He said: “They [the culprits] knew they would be caught during the audit so changed their designation or disguised themselves as medical personnel knowing accounts officers were not part of the training.”

A 2015 NAO audit pegged the missing funds for HIV and Aids activities at K2.5 billion and the number of implicated officials, among them directors of finance, human resources and drivers, was at 63.

But a second audit by a private firm, Graham Carr, revised the missing funds to K875.7 million and the number of staff implicated in the abuse of the money to 38.

In the January 6 2018 edition of our sister newspaper, Weekend Nation, the US Embassy said for 18 months it has engaged MoH to press for decisive disciplinary action and that merely transferring employees guilty of malfeasance was not enough to deter potential wrongdoing.

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