- President’s Chakwera’s alleged ‘friend’ arrested
- Chakwera Fires Cabinet Minister
- Police Arrest 19 Officials
BY PIJ REPORTERS
Just hours after public outrage that was provoked by the plunder of K6.2 billion that the Government had set aside to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Malawi Police has arrested 19 people including a businessman Martin Mainja, alleged to be President Lazarus Chakwera’s friend.
Chakwera has also fired his minister of labour, Ken Kandodo for pocketing COVID-19 money. Ironically Kandodo was one of the cabinet ministers who contracted the Corona virus and had to get assistance from public health facilities.
The president was under attack that his lack of action was caused by his reluctance to let the law take its course against some of those named in the investigations because they were closer to him.
“As for the Minister of Labour,” said Chakwera without mentioning his name. “Who was named by the audit report as having spent COVID funds amounting to K613 thousand on his allowances for a foreign trip, I have dropped him from my Cabinet accordingly.”
He said even though Kandodo has since returned the money, his usage of the funds means that the money was unavailable for its intended purpose when it was needed most.
“And I cannot have in my Cabinet any individuals who either spend money budgeted for one thing on something else or do not ask tough questions to ensure that the money they are spending on something was budgeted for that purpose,” he said.
Ostensibly, the report reveals that the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) and the ministry of health deliberately chose to engage the private firm, Pest Chem 1 B, owned by Chakwera’s friend Pastor Martin Mainja instead of Lilongwe District Health Office (DHO) to do the disinfection.
Pest Chem 1B is the supplier that was handpicked by OPC to fumigate the buildings at Capital Hill, City Centre and Kamuzu Palace to a tune of K97, 185, 500.
Mainja has been arrested alongside an administrative officer in the Office of President and Cabinet, Rashid Mtelela, who was allegedly working with the businessman, cum church minister to siphon this money.
In his Television address to the nation, President Chakwera declared that ‘there is no place on earth where these criminals will hide’.
“As I speak, over a dozen individuals suspected of committing the crimes exposed by this audit report have just been arrested by the Malawi Police Service. This includes an arrest at the Office of the President and Cabinet. There are no sacred cows,” he said.
Chakwera dismissed earlier suggestions that he was trying to protect other people. He said on 14th February this year, he interdicted dozens of controlling officers and district commissioners who were responsible for managing how 6.2 billion Kwacha was spent by their clusters in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic in order to prevent them from obstructing an investigative audit.
“The outrage and anguish you all feel from reading this audit report is not only righteous, but also one that I personally feel. So, I am counting on your continued vigilance as we continue to join hands in fighting against this criminal enterprise until it is defeated.”
Chakwera said the report has revealed seven key findings that include K493 million worth of expenditure that did not follow procurement procedures correctly; K80 million worth of expenditure on allowances which were irregular, including allowances of a Cabinet Minister as well as K83 million worth of cash which was not properly accounted for, including K12 million that vanished without a trace.
The fourth finding he pointed out was K39.7 million worth of fuel which was not properly accounted for, including K7.6 million of fuel that went missing, as well as K23.6 million which was spent wastefully without being budgeted for; K1 billion that was allocated to some clusters to help in the fight against COVID-19 but was left idle and unused.
The seventh finding, he said, was that Local Authorities were given funding without a basis or a budget.
“In view of these findings, I am sure you can now see why I was right to order this audit,” Chakwera said.
He then went on to explain that in the absence of the said audit, Malawians would have remained ignorant about how much of the K6.2 billion was spent, how much was unspent, how much was misspent, and how much was stolen.
“If it were not for this audit, we would all be left to believe the inaccurate reports submitted by those in the public service who have mastered the art of stealing public funds and covering their tracks,” he said.
“For my part, as the person you have trusted to lead you into battle, I promise that this audit is only the beginning, for I have every intention of conducting similar audits into other funds spent on COVID since before I took office, as well as audits into other public funds spent by various institutions,” Chakwera explained further.
He said there will be more arrests as other individuals that the evidence points to are identified and tracked down.
“So, I want all the thieves hiding in the civil service to mark my words: If the finger of evidence points to you as one of the thieves who stole COVID money for saving lives while hundreds of our people were dying of COVID, you are going to prison,” said Chakwera who also added that his Government will use the relevant laws to ensure that those that have stolen pay back what they stole.
Chakwera has also instituted a team comprising representatives from the Department of Human Resource Management and Development, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Justice, and his office which has already started identifying public officers implicated by the audit report.
“I have directed the Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Mr. Zanga-zanga Chikhosi, to interdict without pay those public officers on whose direct watch the financial mismanagement occurred,” he said.
Chakwera also directed Chikhosi to ensure that those officers are referred to the relevant Service Commissions to either clear their names or be sanctioned and disciplined.
“Whether those public officers are senior or junior civil servants, I have directed him to see to it that disciplinary proceedings begin within 14 days,” he said. These actions notwithstanding, he said there are other actions that other independent branches of Government and independent governance institutions like the Malawi Police Service, the Anti-Corruption Bureau, and the Financial Intelligence Authority, support to carry out their mandates.