Flemish government in Belgium is withholding its one million euro (about K615 million) contribution for Malawi’s health sector fund because government is yet to submit audit reports on district health offices (DHOs).
The donor says the audit reports were due in February this year which was also a prerequisite for Flanders to make further cash injections into the health budget.
Flanders country representative Nikolus Borscher, in an exclusive interview with The Nation last week, said his government is yet to receive the audit reports from the Ministry of Health (MoH) as per service agreement.
He said: “I can confirm that we are yet to see the [audit] reports seven months after their due date. [Malawi] Government is yet to come out clear on this and, as it is, we are not releasing any funds until we see the reports and scrutinise them. This is in line with our ToRs [terms of reference].”
Sources confided to The Nation that some DHOs are yet to furnish the MoH with clarifications after queries on previous funding.
In the meantime, the whole multi-donor-funded health support fund hangs in balance. Other financiers of the fund are governments of Norway, Germany and Britain through the Department for International Development (DfID) besides the Flanders/Flemish.
According to the agreement, the funds were meant to finance specific items at the district hospitals and central hospitals except the purchase of drugs.
The Flanders’ move should be a cause of concern to the health sector, especially coming against the background of most public institutions struggling to provide standard services due to reduced budget allocations under the zero-aid budget government is implementing after development partners withdrew budgetary support in October 2013.
However, MoH has dismissed suggestions that funds were being held owing to delayed submission of audit reports with the ministry’s director of health services Charles Mwansambo describing them as mere misunderstandings.
He said: “All I can say is that it is not factual. I think maybe you need to get a little more information as regards the issue.”
But a report on the Meeting on Health Sector Discrete Funding held on June 16 this year, which The Nation has seen, says the funds were meant to support operations at district hospitals, including purchase of food and rations, fuel, maintenance, service level agreement with the Christian Health Association of Malawi (Cham) facilities, locum payments for their medical staff and utility bills.
Reads in part the report: “While the reality is that the budget director expressed concern regarding double funding for health, this issue must be addressed in detail prior to the next funding. The report indicated there were concerns about the number of different discrete funds operating at the district level, and the difficulty in managing these for audit purposes.”
In a telephone interview on the same, MoH director of policy and planning development Dalitso Kabambe said there was no need for panic.
He said: “Actually, government was currently negotiating a new deal with the donors to try and woo them back into the sector-wide fund as was the case before.
“I can confidently announce that a deal is close and we may have them back in full throttle as regarding health financing by the end of this month or early September to say the least. The donors are just waiting for a nod on our proposal from their respective capitals before the deal is done. This should be good news to the country.”
Specifically commenting on concerns raised during the June 16 meeting, Kabambe said the recent evaluation on the fund demonstrated good financial management, strong supervision by MoH resulting in fewer missing vouchers; a move he said would lead to overall improvements in financial management at the district level.
During the same meeting, the Ministry of Finance questioned whether there was full clarity between MoH and Treasury on what the funds were intended for prior to signing the agreement. n