That we cut an image of a country that is unable to govern itself is a foregone conclusion. Whether in the Executive, the Legislature or the Judiciary, we seem to have no clue about what we should do to forge ahead. Specifically to take the majority of Malawians wallowing in excruciating poverty out of their dilemma.
Take, for example, this week’s debacle between a committee of the Legislature and management of the Judiciary. The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament (PAC) summed the former to appear before it, accusing it of failing to give evidence on how K124 million was used as fuel allowance for staff in the 2012/13 financial year.
PAC summoned the Judiciary management team after an Auditor General’s report indicated that there was the misallocation of K124 million. The Judiciary management team quickly pleaded guilty, explaining the money was charged to wrong budget lines and contrary to Treasury instructions. For one thing, it is very easy for the current management in the Judiciary to plead guilty. Why? Punitive measures cannot be taken on the current management at the Judiciary. They cannot be made to suffer for the malfeasance done by other people most of whom are not around. Some culprits might have retired, resigned or even died. Because of the long period of time, some vital information might have been falsified or lost altogether. All this would make it near impossible for the current management team to get back the money from the beneficiaries as one member of PAC naively demanded. In such a situation, it is grossly illogical for PAC to accuse the current management team at the Judiciary as being incompetent. In any case, the current management team may not have been there at the time the malfeasance occurred.
The second problem is that PAC is only following up on a query raised in an audit report. In other words, if there was no audit, PAC would not have summoned the officers. Shouldn’t PAC be more proactive by ensuring the country has a better public finance management system than following on the footsteps of NAO which is itself dogged with a litany of problems?
In the end, Auditor General Stephenson Kamphasa quickly faults the Judiciary for not following procedures for management of fuel expenses as laid down in the system.
Verdict: The Judiciary will be recalled at another date to supply the evidence of the fuel expenditure. But did the Judiciary team not already explain that the beneficiaries were paid cash because they went to work in the rural areas where they could not top up fuel cards because there were no filling stations? So where will they get the evidence from? Will they manufacture it? Is PAC (Legislature) asking for or doing the right things? We might as well consider this the end of the issue—K124 million thrown in a sewer—with no means of retrieving it.
The problem as I see it is failure by the National Audit Office (NAO) to regularly audit MDAs. Why does NAO (which falls under the Executive) not regularly audit MDAs as the law requires? This is the root cause of the mess.
But PAC has said it will summon the management of the Judiciary to bring evidence. What evidence does PAC want now more than what it has already been proffered? Is PAC really serving us well?
Then we have the fire that gutted a wing of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development in February this year under suspicious circumstances—at a time the then Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda was being investigated in connection with the controversial importation of maize from Zambia. Seven months down the line, there is no knowing what caused the fire. Why the cause of the fire has not been established lends credence to speculation that something sinister is being covered up. And now it has been established that the taxpayer will have to cough a whopping K280 million for renovations of the wing. By all reckoning, this is a lot of money which could otherwise have been productively used for something else. Shouldn’t PAC be following up on the cause of the fire at the Ministry of Agriculture rather than waste time on the hopeless case of the fuel issue at the Judiciary?