The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament yesterday turned back Judiciary officials after they failed to explain whether fuel allowances for judicial officers were used for their intended purpose.
Judiciary was called to respond to audit queries for the period 2012/13, but the committee found their responses unsatisfactory.
Committee chairperson Alekeni Menyani said there were audit questions concerning fuel management in the Judiciary amounting to K124 million in the period. This included K85.6 million of bulk purchases of fuel not accounted for, K28.9 million for non-maintenance of fuel ledgers, K7.2 million for fuel not accounted for and K2.3 million of fuel not accounted for through log books, according to records submitted to the committee.
Menyani said the committee needed evidence that indeed the money was spent on fuel for official duties.
“This evidence should be vehicle log books where the mileage was entered to correspond with the fuel requested. If they fail to account for this, they should pay back this money to Malawians,” he said.
On the K7.2 million fuel not accounted for, acting registrar of the High Court of Malawi and Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal Agnes Patemba said there were no records in the fuel ledgers because the fuel was paid out as allowances.
She said: “The Judiciary requires that officers sign for the fuel allowances in the cheque register book. There is no requirement for production of receipts.”
Patemba explained that since judicial officers made trips to rural areas which did not have filling stations, it was convenient to pay allowances rather than topping up fuel cards.
But Blantyre West member of Parliament (MP) Peter Kumpalume (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP) wondered if convenience was a plausible excuse to flout public finance management regulations.
“How could it be allowed for staff to leave town where there is fuel and go to rural areas where there are no filling stations without refuelling first,” said the legislator, a former Minister of Health.
The Auditor General Stephenson Kamphasa faulted the Judiciary for not following procedures for management of fuel expenses as laid down in the system.
He said: “It is clear there was no record of fuel allowances spent. The controlling officer should be told that procedures should be followed because we cannot continue to do things in this manner.
“It is advisable that when buying fuel, it should be from filling stations because it can damage vehicles.”
The Judiciary will be recalled at another date to supply the evidence of the fuel expenditure, according to the committee. n