Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has filed fresh responses challenging findings by the Central Internal Audit Unit of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development which had faulted the electoral body for financial mismanagement.
A letter dated September 28 2015 by the Secretary to the Treasury Ronald Mangani advised MEC chairman, Justice Maxon Mbendera, that the audit report was final and urged him to take actions to discipline officers involved in financial mismanagement.
The contentious audit—which covered the period from July 2012 to December 2014, but was conducted in April and May 2015—reported that MEC, among others, had poor financial management controls, there procured and spent outside the budget, recruited staff without following procedures, made procurements without following regulations, some commissioners and staff pocketed allowances for external trips not undertaken, there was irregular purchase and hiring of vehicles by the chief elections officer, Willie Kalonga, and investing of funds without approval.
However, Justice Mbendera has responded to Mangani with a comprehensive list of responses that is challenging most of the findings in the audit and urging the auditors to review the report.
Apart from responding to the Treasury, MEC has also shared the responses and supporting documents with the media and other stakeholders, a move it had refused to do before.
In a statement, Mbendera says MEC was compelled to go public because stakeholders urged it to do so and also because the auditors were taking too long to conclude the process.
“The leakage of the report has generated wide media coverage and public interest. The commission took a stand not to defend itself on material detail of the audit report with the impression that the final audit report would serve the purpose.
“However, stakeholders have been calling on the commission to come out on the issue and give to the public its responses on the audit queries,” he said.
Mbendera cited meetings with the board of the Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) and the National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) on November 12 and 13 respectively where members urged MEC to release its responses.
The management response to the 25 audit queries—which the Weekend Nation has seen (and can be accessed on MEC’s website)—is accompanied by a covering letter and 75 supporting documents.
The supporting documents include copies of passports for commissioners and staff, minutes of the commission and its sub-committees, goods receipts notes and communication with the Office of Director of Public Procurement.
In its cover letter, MEC is requesting for a meeting with the auditors to go through the responses together so that some can be dropped.
When contacted, MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa said they were still waiting for a response from Treasury on the matter.
Treasury spokesperson Nations Msowoya has insisted that MEC erred in the way they conducted themselves in response to the audit queries.
“In any audit there are standards and guidelines. The standard for the Central Internal Audit is that responses to audit queries must be submitted two weeks after they are made. But MEC submitted their responses outside the period and outside the scope of the audit queries,” Msowoya said in an interview yesterday.
However, he indicated that the unit would still analyse MEC’s responses and would have further meetings with the electoral body if the response addressed critical queries.
“However, should we not be satisfied with the responses, the report we issued would be considered final,” Msowoya said.
The special investigative audit, had, among other things, established that MEC management invested K398 million of the electoral body’s idle funds without evidence of the Commission written authority. MEC, however, has argued that the decision to invest with Alliance Capital was ratified by the Commission’s finance and administration committee.
MEC was also accused of transferring about K119 million to unknown accounts and with no records in the cashbook. but the electoral body says it has provided 24 written authorisations for fund transfers amounting to about K93 million.
“Seven authorisations for the balance are yet to be traced and these will be submitted immediately we get the copies from the bank,” states the report.
On the accusation that commissioners and staff drew out K13 million in travel allowances for external trips not undertaken, the commission has provided the CIAU with photocopies of passport extracts of the concerned personnel.
MEC also charges that borrowing of gas lamps from Zimbabwe—which was not provided for in the elections budget—was a directive by the commission to ensure adequate lighting during counting of votes which was critical to the integrity and transparency to the electoral process.
“There was $315 415 in the budget to purchase gensets. The total expenditure on borrowing of lamps and tents including sending these back to Zimbabwe was K72 726 242.90 which is lower than the budget of K152 976 462. MEC refuses to accept the allegation that the provision of gas lamps (including tents) did not add value during the polling event,” reads its response.
On the accusation of undervaluing of vehicles offered for sale to Mbendera and Kalonga, the commission explained that the vehicle that was sold to the CEO was valued by Toyota Malawi at K350 000 and was also revaluated by MRA.
“For the MEC chairman’s car MEC explains that evaluation has no implication as the offer price is dependent on the original cost of the vehicle,” it reads. n