President Lazarus Chakwera on Thursday caused panic and anxiety when he made an impromptu visit to Capital Hill, the seat of the Malawi Government, to demand an explanation for delayed payment of civil servants’ salaries.
In what was his first official visit to Capital Hill since winning the court-sanctioned June 23 2020 Fresh Presidential Election, the President stormed the Department of Human Resource Management and Development (DHRMD).
He was accompanied by Vice-President Saulos Chilima. The two were returning from an official function at the nearby Bingu International Convention Centre.
A witness said the President, who has an office at Capital Hill but mostly operates from his other office within his official residence Kamuzu Palace, quizzed Secretary to the President and Cabinet Zanga-Zanga Chikhosi on what was causing delayed payment of civil servants’ salaries.
The President was told that they would follow up and provide a report.
Chikhosi was not available on Thurdsday to comment on what transpired.
But another witness said Chakwera was visibly not impressed with some of the explanations and was seen shaking his head.
In an interview last evening, the President’s executive assistant Sean Kampondeni, who is also State House director of communication, said Chakwera was dissatisfied with the delays to process civil servants’ salaries; hence, the raiding of DHRMD to demand answers.
He said the President was dismayed that while money is available, workers in the civil service were not being paid; hence, he wanted officials from the department to account for the chronic delays in remitting monthly salaries.
Kampondeni said: “Before entering the department, the President had a brief chat with some civil servants at Capital Hill to get primary evidence on reports of unpaid salaries which they confirmed to have been unpaid.
“The President is disappointed with perennial delays of civil servant salaries and he is sick and tired of excuses from responsible officials at the department.
“The President has demanded a detailed report to be presented to him by tomorrow [today] on challenges the department is facing and planned solutions to the problems to ensure salary payment delays becomes a thing of the past.”
Another witness narrated that when the presidential motorcade arrived at the entrance of Capital Hill, workers who were outside offices for lunch break rushed to their offices as they did not know the ministry the President was visiting.
From July 1 this year, government rolled out a new Integrated Financial Management and Information System (Ifmis) aimed at bringing efficiency in financial management in the civil service and eliminate abuse.
During the launch of the K19 billion six-lane Kenyatta Road improvement project in Lilongwe on Tuesday, Roads Authority board chairperson Joe Ching’ani lamented to the President that delayed payment to contractors was one huge headache sabotaging timely implementation and completion of projects.
He said there are contractors carrying out massive projects who have waited for three months for payment without success.
Ching’ani said: “We are told that money is available at Treasury, but there is an animal at Capital Hill which has sat on the path of payments and the name of that animal is Ifmis. We are told it is a new Ifmis; hence, it is taking time to roll out.
“It is not our agenda to demonise the new Ifmis, but our puzzle is that, here is a technology which is supposed to make operations simpler, we are told it is an expensive technology and government is paying huge sums of money.”
In his address at the road launch, Chakwera commended Ching’ani for raising the issue and cautioned party or government officials against issuing threats to him for reporting the apparent rot in the system.
However, Kampondeni said while Ching’ani’s lamentations were also connected to Ifmis, the President’s action on Thursday was on civil servants delayed salary payment.
DHRMD spokesperson Ken Mtonga confirmed the President’s impromptu visit to the department, but said he had no details about what transpired.
However, one official at DHRMD said the President visited a wrong office because Ifmis is manned by the office of the Accountant General.
Said the source: “Ifmis is housed and managed at Accountant General and not at the DHRMD. It’s a payment system managed by our paymaster [Accountant General].”
Information and Communication Technology Association of Malawi president Bram Fudzulani earlier challenged government to explain why there are challenges with end users considering the procurement and installation of the new Ifmis commenced during the 2018/2019 financial year.