Pressure is mounting on the government to release the results of an audit that President Lazarus Chakwera demanded two months ago on the expenditure of K6.2 billion Covid-19 funds.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Gift Trapence, in an exclusive interview on Thursday, gave government 21 days to release the audit report.
“It’s true we are giving the government 21 days to release the audit report as regards to the K6.2 billion. If the government will not comply, HRDC will have no choice but just to mobilise Malawians and go into the streets. We will just announce the date of the demonstrations after the 21 days,” he said.
The HRDC leader questioned the efficiency of the administration in delivering its promises to run an open and transparent government.
“As per order from the President [Lazarus Chakwera], the audit report should have been out by now after the lapse of the 30 days period. Our worry is that presidential orders in this country are just being defied. This administration came in on a pledge of openness. We want the truth to come out on how the funds were used otherwise we will mobilise Malawians to protest,” said Trapence.
He referred to directives from the President on the administration of the 2020 Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examination and changes to the top hierarchy at the National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma), which were widely seen as not implemented.
A galore of allegations of abuse of the funds meant for the Covid-19 national response moved Chakwera to order the office of the Auditor General to investigate how the funds were used by various clusters.
An attempt to get a response from the Auditor General’s office spokesperson Rabson Kagwam’minga was not successful as he asked for more time.
However, Minister of Information Gospel Kazako, in a written response on Friday, acknowledged that the matter was one of the issues that the government was focusing on.
He revealed that the said report is now with the Secretary to the Treasury after the Auditor General submitted it for action.
Kazako said: “The report was, however, finalised and the Auditor General submitted the final [copy] to the Secretary to the Treasury who requested for the audit. Malawians can thus be assured that the findings will be made available for them to appreciate the magnitude of the usage of K6.2 billion Covid-19 funds.”
Asked why the audit report has delayed, he attributed the hitches to circumstantial matters.
“It is true that the State President directed that all clusters and councils be audited, and that an audit report should be produced within 30 days. The NAO embarked on the exercise but there were several challenges that affected their operations. They included Covid-19 pandemic and logistical glitches.
The occurrence of the pandemic has forced many offices to close or retain thin staffing in order to adhere to regulations put in place to control its spread. Most of the people required on the audit were at home hence the delay,” said Kazako.
Weighing in on the matter, governance expert Happy Kayuni, in a telephone interview yesterday, described the current situation as a ‘missed opportunity’ for the Tonse Alliance administration to demonstrate its seriousness on critical matters.
“Apparently, this administration is good at making promises but delivering very little. The danger is that citizens will not take the government seriously next time. The current situation has serious implications on legitimacy and trust. Government must therefore not take for granted people’s goodwill. The administration must stop playing with peoples psychology. The President made a bold statement and this an opportunity for them to show they are serious,” he said.
At the height of the scandal which exposed lack of adherence to strict financial management controls, Chakwera on February 14 2021 directed the Secretary to the President and Cabinet to interdict all controlling officers who did not submit their expenditure reports.
Due to immense pressure, the President also ordered the reversal of about K17 billion which had been released for the same purpose.
A huge public outcry was heard following the revelations of abuse of funds meant for Covid-19 fight at a time health facilities were overwhelmed by many people testing positive, admissions and lack of medical accessories and equipment.