OPC squeezes Parliament

Chimunthu Banda: The issues are operational
Chimunthu Banda: The issues are operational

The Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) has cornered Parliament to explain why it allowed National Assembly corporate services chief Renard Mapemba to use public money for his Scotland study trip.

OPC’s move follows The Nation’s investigative story in April this year that exposed how the National Assembly let Mapemba—Deputy Clerk of Parliament (corporate services)—to get about K10 million (US$31,152) in alleged illegal allowances between September 2012 and March 2013 for his travel and stay in Scotland in pursuit of his five-year part-time PhD programme at the University of Glasgow.

The issue then was that Mapemba claimed external travel allowances instead of educational stipends, which are far much lower than the latter.

But it emerged this week, as per information from the OPC, that Mapemba—whose issue has also attracted the attention of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB)—should not even have used any public funds to facilitate his Scotland trip to attend one of his PhD sessions.

“The OPC granted Mr. Mapemba approval to proceed to Scotland, ON CONDITION [emphasis is OPC’s] that no government funds would be used towards the trip.

“Meanwhile, the OPC has requested the Office of the Clerk of Parliament to explain fully about the alleged collection of the K10 million in allowances. A full and comprehensive report from Parliament is yet to be received,” said OPC spokesperson Arthur Chipenda in a written response to our questionnaire asking the Cabinet office to confirm our findings that OPC has demanded a report from the National Assembly.

Parliament sources confided to The Nation last week that immediately the alleged abuse of educational allowance was reported, OPC wrote Parliament for an explanation.

“The OPC also wanted to know what course of action was being taken. But as you are aware, Mr Mapemba took the matter to his personal lawyers, so the OPC letter was referred to him and his response was that the matter was being handled by his lawyers,” said the source.

At the centre of controversy: Mapemba
At the centre of controversy: Mapemba

Mapemba started paying back the money to the National Assembly through monthly deductions, his lawyers said in a letter to The Nation in May this year.

But our National Assembly sources said the recovery of the money from his salary only started in May after The Nation had published the article in April. Mapemba was scheduled to travel in March after taking the money in February.

It is not clear whether the repayment is only for allowances for his March failed trip for a second stint at the University of Glasgow or it includes the wrong allowances he drew on two occasions—in September 2012 and in March this year—for his educational trip.

In an interview last week, Speaker of Parliament Henry Chimunthu Banda, who heads the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) that provides oversight to management, said Mapemba’s issues were operational and fall under the Clerk of Parliament (CoP).

Parliament Secretariat, through then acting CoP Henry Njolomole and spokesperson Leonard Mengezi, has consistently refused to comment on the matter. Mapemba himself has not been forthcoming with his side of the story.

Apart from OPC, the ACB has also taken an interest in the matter.

In a questionnaire response last week, ACB senior public relations officer Egrita Ndala said the graft busting body was still probing the allegations.

Said Ndala: “The ACB is investigating the complaint in relation to the issue of allowances at Parliament. The bureau would not rush into conclusion on the matter as the investigation has not yet been concluded. The public will be informed about the outcome of the case when the investigation is concluded.”

She said apart from The Nation’s expose, the bureau launched preliminary investigations into the educational allowance allegations at the National Assembly after receiving a complaint on the same.

“The complaint is being processed to see what action should be taken by the bureau,” she said.

The issues

Kapito: This is a matter of gross indiscipline
Kapito: This is a matter of gross indiscipline

According to payment vouchers we saw in April, during his first visit to the university between September 13 2012 and October 14, at least K4 334 756.31 (US$13,503) was deposited into Mapemba’s bank account held at Standard Bank Capital City Branch being payment for external travel and other allowances.

An internal memorandum reference number NA/SPF/446 dated August 15 2012 signed by Harvey Chigumula of the Travel Desk, explains that the money was meant for external travel allowances, telephone allowances, settling allowance, warm clothing allowance and book allowance.

At the time of publishing the article in April, we talked to Mapemba and he confirmed that he had not travelled.

Based on PSC documents and a circular issued by the Department of Human Resource Management and Development (DHRMD) detailing allowance guidelines, it appears that Mapemba got the bulk of the alleged illegal allowances by claiming external travel allowances instead of training entitlements.

He also got stipends such as for telephones that do not fall under training, according to PSC guidelines.

Our sources confirmed at the time that Mapemba was not supposed to receive telephone allowances because, according to the memo he issued as head of corporate services on June 20 2012, such an allowance applies to Members of Parliament and only to staff who are accompanying the legislators.

When we contacted him for the first story in April, Mapemba declined to say why he was collecting wrong allowances and also why he never travelled after drawing allowances in February. He referred us back to Mengezi.

According to DHRMD, those pursuing long-term courses under Malawi Government Scholarship Fund (MGSF) outside Africa are entitled to £700 (K359 800) monthly stipend, one off allowances for settling (£270) [K138 780], warm clothing (£270), a book allowance of £270 paid once in an academic year, dissertation allowance of £350 (K179 900) paid once in the final year as well as extra baggage and departure allowance of £500 (K257 000) on their return to students who have stayed in universities for more than two years and £375 (K192 750) for those whose programmes were under two years.

These allowances exclude tuition and the cost of a return air ticket that is bought on a one-way basis.

Had Mapemba been a full time student in Scotland, government would only have spent about K3.5 million (US$9,345)on him for upkeep allowances comprising £700 monthly stipend for seven months since last September (£4 900 for seven months) [K2.5 million] and the £810 (K416 340) in settling, warm clothing and book allowances. He should never have collected external travel allowances, according to guidelines.

The nearly K10 million that has gone into Mapemba’s bank account excludes the cost of air tickets and approximately $25 000 (about K40 million (US$124, 610) at the current exchange rate) tuition fee that the National Assembly has paid directly to the University of Glasgow.

In late May, when we contacted Mapemba to confirm reports that he had started repaying the money through monthly deductions, he also refused to answer anything. But a few hours later, Nation Publications Limited received a letter from his lawyers—Middleton Chambers.

The letter said Mapemba had complied with the process of repaying the money. It also demanded an immediate apology from The Nation to Mapemba and threatened to sue the paper “for any further publication of this false and groundless matter.”

Reads the letter in part: “The documents in our possession show that our client instructed the finance department [of Parliament] to recover the allowances from his salary following his failure to travel.

“Be informed that in government or Parliament, it is a set procedure to recover any money paid to a civil servant, which has not been used for the purpose it was paid. Our client complied with this set procedure and, therefore, it is wrong for you to claim that our client was in allowance scam.”

 

Activists want action

Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director John Kapito this week wondered what precedent Parliament was setting by only asking the Deputy Clerk of Parliament to repay the money through monthly deductions.

“This was a matter of gross indiscipline and one would not expect that it can only be dealt with by asking the culprit simply to repay the abused resources through salary deductions over time. What precedent are we setting? Does this confirm what has been said about the high levels of corruption and abuse in government when many poor Malawians are suffering out there in the rural areas?

“This also means that whatever the public and media report will be useless to government since they will protect each other and the public and the media that decides to report on government officials will pay a huge price for doing so,” he said.

Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) executive director Dalitso Kubalasa said it would be important for public institutions such as Parliament to be enforcing outlined policies and procedures when dealing with issues of alleged abuse of public resources.

He said the value that Parliament was going to get from the recovered money would not be the reported K10 million being refunded as the net present value would be lower by the time the money is fully recovered.

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