Druggate, Cashgate, Tractorgate, Landgate and counting

First it was Druggate—the rampant drug pilferage in public health facilities. This was soon followed by Tractorgate. Then came Cashgate. Now it is Landgate. And counting.

Cashgate—the wanton looting of government coffers first exposed in March 2013—is a direct result of poor public finance management. Among other things, it stems from government’s failure to timely audit ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and put in place foolproof finance management systems.

After Cashgate, government was supposed to discard the old integrated finance management system (Ifmis) and replace it with a new one. It has taken government six years to do that. Anyone in the know why? One does not have to ask if this means that during all these years, malfeasants have been plundering and gourmandising on our taxes without an iota of shame or guilt.   

The failure to timely audit MDAs with a view to unearth the rot in these institutions has been costly to the Malawi government, to say the least. Most MDAs are audited on an ad hoc basis. Yet audits are supposed to be a regular undertaking to ensure public finances are properly accounted for, fraud is detected early and remedial action is taken.

One reason fraud is entrenched in the MDAs is because people know it takes many years for institutions to be audited. And by the time an audit is conducted, some officers have passed on or evidence has been lost. Rarely are fraudsters prosecuted and convicted for their malfeasance.

There is no question that regular and timely audits of its MDAs would enable government to discover fraud early and nip it in the bud.

We have it all on authority that one third of the country’s national budget goes down the drain unaccounted for. No wonder some donors have described the national budget a leaking bucket. Theft is so rampant in the civil service.

But if Cashgate is rampant; drug pilferage is worse. Last year, former US Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer threatened that her government would stop providing financial assistance to Malawi to purchase drugs if this heinous practice continued unabated.

Fraud and drug pilferage have been nurtured in MDAs and allowed to reach alarming levels such that they now seem to have become the norm rather than an anomaly. I was surprised a few weeks ago when I visited a certain government office where I found someone openly selling antibiotics—amoxyl, flagyl and penicillin etc.  Under the Pharmacy, Medicines and Poisons Act and Regulations, antibiotics are not supposed to be sold anyhow and by every Jim and Jack. Only licensed pharmacies and health facilities are allowed to do that, and the drugs are supposed to be prescribed by a licensed health practitioner. This drug seller did not know me but he did not give a damn what could follow from his criminal acts if reported to authorities. But there he was flaunting his exploits in the business.

I thought about the source of the drugs and my conclusion was that it was a public health facility. Both the seller and the buyer did not mind about my presence. From their interaction I concluded the man was a regular in that office.

I am glad the Ministry of Health and the US government have been setting up an anti-drug police unit to curb drug pilferage in public health institutions. One only hopes that one day drug theft will become history in the country’s public health facilities.

Three years ago, a new lexicon—Tractorgate—entered Malawi’s vocabulary. This was the dubious sale of 177 tractors and 144 maize shellers that Government purchased in 2012 through a loan from an Indian bank at a dizzying $50 million (K37billion) for the Greenbelt Initiative and which were sold for a song. The taxpayers are now burdened with repaying the $50 million.

And now enter Landgate—theft of land mostly belonging to public schools. Land is wealth. But it is finite. A responsible Government jealously preserves and controls its land. But it is not possible to do that without land audits. So far, it is Livimbo Community Day Secondary School land, land belonging to Chimutu school, Chilambula school, Magwero school and counting. But I doubt the thievery spared Blantyre, Mzuzu and Zomba.

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