Where were political leaders and controlling officers when some civil servants were writing outrageous sums of money on government cheques as payments to dubious companies for goods and services to government they never supplied?
Where was the political and technical leadership as well as other players in the public finance and economic management (PFEM) system) when cheques—generated by what we were all told was the watertight Integrated Financial Management System (IFMIS)—were cashed at commercial banks only for the money to literally evaporate without a trace?
Specifically, where was Finance Minister Ken Lipenga, Secretary to the Treasury Randson Mwadiwa and Account General David Kandoje when all this was happening?
And frankly, why are these three still in their jobs?
If President Joyce Banda had any backbone at all, she should have shown strong and decisive leadership by firing these three top individuals at the Ministry of Finance and then, yes, take them to task on how they allowed such free-for-all plunder of public funds entrusted to them by the people of Malawi under the Republican Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act.
If for nothing else, fire them for gross incompetence, snoring on duty or indeed negligence. Once the three are out of the way, then crackdown on every civil servant!
By the way, I know that for a long time, there have been recommendations to carry out a performance audit of IFMIS so that gaps could be identified and addressed. Why were those recommendations not implemented? Someone, especially this trio, must surely account for that lapse.
Lipenga is an interesting case. This is the second scandal that has happened under his watch.
Folks, this is the Lipenga who was also Minister of Finance during the embellishment of revenue figures under the Bingu wa Mutharika administration.
He was Treasury’s political head when then budget director Dalitso Kabambe ordered the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) to borrow K15 billion from local commercial banks and sex it up as government tax revenue.
This is the Minister who went ahead to lie to Parliament and the whole country that the lopsided zero-deficit budget was working as shown by above target tax revenue figures that we all discovered were borrowed from local commercial banks—everything was one big fat lie. Why is the President retaining complete confidence in him?
There are also a number of bootlickers, cheer leaders and stone throwers that President Banda should never have allowed to come near government again.
But she did let them into her once hope giving People’s Party (PP). And now look what troubles some of those folks have brought upon a President praying to win the people’s mandate in the next few months through the May 2014 elections.
There are also unconfirmed reports that some powerful Cabinet Ministers have been fingered in dubious money that is linked to the plunder that has become the norm at Capital Hill.
Although no names have been given, there is enough innuendo suggesting who these Ministers are.
President Banda should not give them the benefit of the doubt. She should sack them—no questions asked. After all, she can hire and fire her Cabinet Members at will with or without wrong doing.
And for goodness’ sake, where were our local commercial banks when all these unexplained encashment were happening in their branches?
It is surprising that banks—without raising eyebrows and reporting the suspicious transactions to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU)—happily dished out the tens of millions of kwacha to individuals who shared the loot.
What happened to bank customer due diligence/ Know Your Customer (KYC)? Shouldn’t banks monitor customers’ transactions and report suspicious transactions to the FIU as one of commercial banks’ contributions towards efforts aimed at curbing money laundering and other financial crimes in Malawi?
Granted, the banker/customer relationship is contractual and, yes, banks owe a strict duty of confidentiality to their customers. But surely, the Government of Malawi is also a client for almost all these institutions. It deserves to have its accounts secured.
Indeed, as good corporate citizens, banks have a duty to help reduce financial crimes that are bleeding the Malawi economy from where they make the windfall or obscene profits they have been posting in the midst of heart breaking poverty.
Are these banks telling us that there are no circumstances under which they can divulge information on their clients?
I was always under the impression that the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Act gives banks protection when it comes to suspicious transactions.
How did these huge sums of money leave the banks without FIU knowing? I believe that Malawi’s commercial banks are as culpable of the looting at Capital Hill as are those accounts personnel in the civil service caught with stacks of money in their houses and cars?
It is clear that this was organised crime that has milked the fiscus of billions. And the Banda administration better have a plan for not just dealing with this systematic robbery, but also how to recover the money. A lifestyle audit of all civil servants and other public officers, including Cabinet Ministers, should be the starting point on an operation I would code-name, “Get Back our Money Campaign”.