Attorney General Charles Mhango has given Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee (PAC) the go-ahead to interview Auditor General nominee Harold Mwala despite protests from several quarters pressing government to use the new law in making the choice.
The committee has observed that Mwala’s appointment did not follow procedures because the Executive and the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development did not consult the Attorney General before making the appointment.
The amended Public Audit Act assented to in March this year states that the position of Auditor General would be advertised before a panel shortlists and interviews candidates to be confirmed by a parliamentary committee.
But in June, President Peter Mutharika appointed Mwala as Auditor General following the expiry of contract for the office’s former occupant Stephenson Kamphasa.
PAC sought a legal opinion from the Attorney General, which he gave on Tuesday.
In an interview after meeting the committee, Mhango said the appointment can proceed using the old Act and not the new one because the Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development has not put the Act to force yet.
He said: “The committee was seeking my advice on the effect of the old and new Act. The public needs to be aware that the new Act was passed and the President assented to it but it hasn’t been put into a commencement date yet. As we speak, the Act in force is the old one not the new one. As it is, the old Act applies but I have advised the committee that it is part of their role to vet and scrutinise the appointments, but the old Act is the one to be used in the present scenario.”
Mhango added that nonetheless government is keen to follow best practices of appointing public officers like the Auditor General.
When queried why the commencement date has not been fixed, Secretary to the Treasury Ben Botolo said the ministry was consulting with the Solicitor General on the way forward.
“I met her on Monday and will also meet her tomorrow. Preparations for the commencement date are supposed to be done by the Ministry of Justice,” he said.
Solicitor General Gertrude Hiwa asked for a questionnaire before responding on the progress of the Act.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Malawi (Icam), however, insists the appointment should be reviewed because the candidate does not have some qualities befitting the office considered crucial to effective public finance and economic management.
Icam vice-president Joel Mwenelupembe said there is need for a proper review of Mwala, saying he is not in good standing with Icam; hence, not fit or the position.
He said: “We want the appointment reviewed. We feel some procedures were not followed and the process was done in haste. To begin with, Mwala is not in good standing with Icam, he hasn’t paid his subscription fee since 2014 and has been out of practice for a long time.”
Icam, who wrote the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) expressing its opinion on the matter, had earlier said some of the qualifications for the holder of the office of Auditor General, as stipulated in the Public Audit Act, are that the person must have “significant audit experience” and should possess a valid practising licence by Malawi Accountants Board (MAB).
But Mwala told The Nation last month that he is fit for the job and that he is a member of MAB.
He said: “I am a registered member of MAB and I have a certificate. I have worked for National Audit Office for four years and at Wood Industries Corporation for two years. In total that is six years’ experience. What is the definition of significant experience?”
Mwala also said he is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, holds a master of business administration from Eastern and Southern Africa Management Institute (Esami), a master’s degree in accountancy from the University of Glamorgan in the United Kingdom, and a diploma in accountancy issued by the then Public Accountants Examination Council in Malawi.
The country’s development partners, among them Britain and the European Union, also protested the appointment, arguing that it contradicted government’s commitment to its Public Service Reform initiative and is not consistent with its commitment to transparency and accountability.
Committee chairperson Lingson Belekanyama observed that there was an error in the appointment of the new Auditor General as the President did not consult on the procedures that is why the appointment has received mixed reactions and bad publicity.
Mwala was appointed using the old Section 5 of the Public Audit Act as read with Section 183 (3) of the Constitution which gave powers to appoint to the President and confirmation by a committee of the whole House.
But Section 5(a) of the new Act, which was gazetted on May 11 2018, provides for a transparent procedure for the appointment of the Auditor General, which includes placing a vacancy and instituting a panel to shortlist candidates and conduct interviews.
Section 5a (5) reads: “The President shall subject to Section 183 (3) of the Constitution appoint an Auditor General only from the names on the list recommended by the selection.”