Mchinji council told to refund money

Taxpayers will bear the blunt of abuse of K68 million meant for Decent and Affordable Housing Subsidy Programme at Mchinji District Council as the funds will be reimbursed by sectors implicated in the audit report and not suspects, authorities have confirmed.

The development means people should expect Mchinji District Council to scale down in the delivery of the sectors implicated in the report.

Mughogho: They will refund the money

The sectors, namely the council’s secretariat has been ordered to pay back K27 million, Agriculture Sector Wider Approach  has to refund K12 million while social welfare, Roads Fund, Rural Livelihood Economic Enhancement Programme and health departments will refund K29 million.

The move by the council to recover the funds follows an article by our sister newspaper Nation on Sunday published two weeks ago, which brought to light how the funds meant for Decent and Affordable Housing Subsidy Programme (Dahsp) were abused in 2015 and suppliers remain unpaid two years later.

Following the article, Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi and Lands Housing and Urban Development Minister Anna Kachikho stormed the council where they demanded answers on what exactly happened.

Last week, senior members of the council, including district commissioner (DC) Rosemary Nawasha, were summoned to Capital Hill where they met with officials from Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development to discuss the way forward.

Both the DC and Ministry of Local Government spokesperson Muhlabase Mughogho confirmed in separate interviews of the meeting.

According to Mughogho, the ministry directed that the council should decide on how the funds will be reimbursed.

She said: “This is going to be discussed at the council level, but the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development wants the funds returned to the [Dahsp] account and that payments should be made as required.”

When asked on what action awaits the staff alleged to have been involved in the misappropriation of the funds, Mughogho said the ministry intends to undertake its own audit and that a decision will be made after that.

In an interview on Tuesday, Nawasha indicated that requests to the sectors involved to start repayment have been made  but she could not say the  period set for the exercise.

The DC also could not explain how the decision to recover the funds from the sectors was arrived at and whether the council has given up on its earlier attempts to force the individual suspects to pay back the money.

In an earlier interview, National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) acting executive secretary Stanley Tchuthi said the committee expects appropriate action will be taken on the suspects and that the money will be recovered.

He said: “As you are aware, we now have the councillors in place so our recommendation is that let the matter be taken to the council on the way forward, and if the matter is beyond discipline then it can be reported to police.”

In an earlier interview former DC for Mchinji Richard Hara, under whose watch the misappropriation of the funds occurred, said he was only a whistle-blower.

“Who was approving those funds? Why is that person being shielded? The cheques that were cashed I did not sign for [them], that is why I raised a query that some money was being approved behind my back. This is how the whole issue came to light.

“Why was I transferred unexpectedly while there was an ongoing investigation?” he queried.

Hara,  who was transferred to Karonga late last year, observed that some of the people involved in the scandal were also transferred from Mchinji District Council and, wondered how they will be disciplined as recommended in the final report.

An investigative internal audit report on Dahsp funds for the district for July 1 2015- September 15 2016 which we have seen, shows that funds amounting to K33 518 735. 20 could not be accounted for and that payment vouchers and requisitions were either not certified or authorised by the responsible personnel.

The audit report also revealed that funds amounting to K52 975 158.00 were used for other council activities not related to Dahsp.

Following the suspected funds misappropriation, the council through NLGFC, engaged an independent auditor from M’mbelwa District Council to do an independent evaluation of the management of the funds. n

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