Blantyre City Council sends home staff amid financial fraud

There is a communication collapse at Blantyre City Council (BCC) after management sealed offices of switchboard operators for allegedly swindling millions of the council’s finances.

The three operators have since been sent home on an indeterminate suspension, a source at the scandal rocked and financially abused institution confided in Nyasa Times.

For about two weeks now, all BCC switchboards’ lines both at the Civic Centre and Ginnery Corner offices, including the 999 emergency line for fire fighting and rescue services, have not been functional giving city residents a raw deal as services cannot be sought over the phone.

The three suspended workers are Santos Chavuta and his young brother Bernard, and Buluwundi, all of whom were brought in by their relatives through the Director of Administrative Services (DAS) Alfred Chanza, without undergoing interviews.

Nandolo: Helped to burst the syndicate
Nandolo: Helped to burst the syndicate

Buluwundi, a nephew to Suzgo Nyirenda, who is personal assistant to DAS and Santos Chavuta were operating the Civic Centre switchboard while Bernard Chavuta was manning the Ginnery Corner offices’ telephones.

“They were all ordered to surrender their office keys to the legal services manager [Mphatso Matandika] who was in the company of the chief security officer [Pilirani Chikoko] and told to go home without any letters or formal charges,” disclosed the source.

The chief security officer then sealed the two switchboard offices with new locks.

And Nyasa Times has uncovered that the three were involved in fraudulent selling of the council’s pre-paid MTL airtime meant for official use.

Information in Nyasa Times custody indicate that BCC was every month giving K200 000 worth of pre-paid MTL units to the Civic Centre switchboard operators under vote number 32-3352 but they were selling half of it to airtime vendors.

Under vote number 72-3352, BCC was also giving Ginnery Corner switchboard operator K36 000 but half of it was also being illegally sold to the vendors.

The Civic Centre switchboard has 16 telephone lines, although many know 01 870 211 which is the main line, while Ginnery Corner has six lines with 01 870 911 being the main line.

But besides giving the Civic Centre switchboard all that airtime, each department and all senior officers get separate airtime hence rarely using the switchboard airtime.

For instance, every month the Health Department is allocated K37 200 using vote number 51-3352, Commerce gets K43 200 through vote number 14-3352 while the Parks & Leisure Department has a monthly allocation of K22 800 coming under vote 101-3352.

Others include the Administration Department which gets the lion’s share of K109 200 per month under vote numbers 31-3352 and 102-3352, Finance uses vote number 01-3352 to draw airtime amount of K22 800, Town Planning gets K25 200 on vote numbers 107-3352 and 108-3352 with the Engineering Department getting K27 600 on vote numbers 81-3352, 71-3352 and 72-3352.

And that aside, the Chief Executive Officer gets K19 800 for his residential ground line with all directors pocketing K12 000 for office use and similar amount is given for home use. Deputy Directors, Assistant directors, human resource manager, public relations manager and other officers get K8 400 each and another K8 400 for their residences.

“This shows the telephone operators had more than enough airtime to sell. Management knew about these shady deals but it could not stamp its authority because all the three were brought by some members of the management team,” faulted the source.

It has further been discovered that the telephone operators were conniving with some technicians to raise fake invoices in connection to switchboard and handsets’ faults and spares which the council was paying.

“Funds were being released and paid out to companies for purchases of new gadgets which never existed. This has also been corroborated by the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA),” confided one employee, who said that the chief executive officer Ted Nandolo used his experience at Malawi Commucications Regulatory Authority (Macra) to collaborate some information from Macra where he was board chair before Martha Kwataine was drafted in.

The source also revealed that the management team is also paid in cash between K 14,750 to K120,000 every month for cell phone units.

Since the switchboard offices were sealed residents have been failing to inquire about their city bills and report about various issues happening in the city for their enforcement team to rush and restore order.

In September last year, the council also sent home Joseph Gawani, Getrude Mkwepu and Pilirani Chingwalu without suspension letters after they were suspected of embezzling over a million kwacha at the newly established Commerce Department.

However, despite being on suspension the two are enjoying their full salaries because Mkwepu is an in-law of DAS’s chauffer while Chingwalu is a niece of the Chief Executive Officer.

Blantyre City Council has about 2,500 employees scattered around its various offices and records indicate that during day time the city has a population of about a million due to the day blossoming activities whereas at night it is in the ranges of 700,000.

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