Malawi National Audit Office going rogue: ‘Cut the chaff’

In Weekend Nation newspaper, award winning columnist  Ephraim Munthali of the  ‘Cut the chaff’ has tackled the rot in National Audit Office . Here is the full article as it appeared:

I am outraged by the outrageous behaviour of the National Audit Office (NAO). Imagine if the Malawi Police Service—yes, those characters who swore to protect life and property—were to invade our homes in full uniform, guns blazing and all, to steal our property and assault us—the very things and beings they were hired to prevent. Would you ever feel safe in this country?

And we taxpayers—both from here and abroad where 40 percent of our national budget comes from—must ask a similar question: Who will guarantee the safety of our hard-earned money, entrusted with government departments with the belief and confidence that NAO will keep an eye on it when the same NAO—specifically constituted under the laws of Malawi to provide checks and balances on the use of public resources, can abuse funds as has been demonstrated in the case of British and Norwegian money?

How much more, including domestically financed resources, has NAO misused? Who audits NAO, anyway? Has government ever hired an external auditor to audit how the public auditor has utilised taxpayers’ money allocated to it?

Kamphasa: New Auditor General

Kamphasa: New Auditor General

When the NAO folks were caught with their pants down thanks to a Deloitte external audit that the vigilant donors instituted and after which the public auditor was told to refund the misused money, what did the country’s most important public finance accountability institution do?

It took money that taxpayers allocated to it for the crucial job of protecting public resources and used it to refund the angry donors.

In the final analysis, who is the loser? You and I—the taxpayers who sweat blood to keep government functional by paying our taxes and, in my case, that includes 30 percent of my salary through Pay as You Earn (Paye), 10 percent in withholding tax from all my consultancies, 16.5 percent in Value Added Tax (VAT) on the goods and services I acquire as well as the numerous duties and excises on household purchases most of which we buy from traders who in turn import them from outside the country.

What is even more ironic is that the UK donation that NAO has misused was meant to help the institution to check and stop abuses in councils by clearing a backlog of audits there.

In the case of Norway, their funds were supposed to be used to strengthen NAO’s capacity to police other departments to ensure that they use the resources for the intended activities that Parliament approved in the national budget.

But these NAO folks thought the national good was not good enough to be served with honesty and integrity and so it came to pass that they served their personal good by sharing among themselves more than K70 million out of the hundreds of millions that UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) provided.

How?

It was simple—they do this all the time in government. Some of it disappeared as allowances to people who never went to the field to audit anyone.

These “undeserving” recipients of allowances, from what I know as a former public staffer—must have included secretaries, messengers, accounts assistants, cashiers and senior officers—all of whom did not travel but may have had some minor role in pushing the paper work at headquarters.

That is the entrenched culture at Capital Hill, so entrenched that people there can stay without talking to each other for one year “chifukwa anatimana ndalama za activity yake!”

According to the audit, some of the DfID money was also siphoned by using exaggerated per diem rates that were neither budgeted for nor in government regulations whereas other millions vanished by officers claiming more days than spent in the field.

Also, these folks would be writing audit reports from their offices and still claim allowances, including for accommodation! Since when, dare I ask, did civil servants start sleeping in their offices?

And for a public auditing authority, it would have been laughable were it not so serious, to learn that millions of kwacha were supposedly spent on fuel but there is no trace of receipts to support this expenditure.

Yet, these are the very documents an auditor worth the title asks those that he or she audits to produce when out there. “Do as I say, not as I do” is the game, eh?

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