A combination of low wages and perverse incentives motivate civil servants to supplement their income with per diem payments connected to participation in seminars and workshops but the United Nations has come out in full support President Lazarus Chakwera’s recent commitment to end the allowance culture he termed “most difficult form of corruption.”
UN Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres, said participation in workshops, training and seminars has often come with several challenges linked to the implementation of harmonized allowances.
“This puts a significant burden on the successful implementation of Development Partner’s efforts, especially in capacity development and limits the impact of our support,” said Torres in a communication to the Office of the President and Cabinet, which Nyasa Times has seen, dated August 7 2020.
Acting UN resident coordinator Benoit Thiry confirmed they have made a proposal that complied good existing practices and it is not only applicable to Malawi but in other countries as well.
“As Development Partners in Malawi we fully support the vision of President Chakwera and express our high interest to engage with your Government on this issue that is so central to the Public Sector Reform and to our daily business as Development Partners. We are committed to be part of a sustainable and fair solution that encourages integrity and motivation of Malawi’s civil servants,” reads the letter.
In many cases, managers knowingly allowed the per diem irregularities, or accepted the opportunistic organization of seminars primarily intended to maximize per diem payments. They often misused the system to offer extra payments to their staff, and inflated their unit’s budgets to create financial space for the manipulation of the travel compensation system.
But the development partners have reviewed the developed guidelines which among others, require that an event; workshop or seminar only be organised in a location where majority of participants are coming from and only those relevant to the workshop should be invited.
“Whenever possible the organising institution shall use its own government or donor venues/ offices meeting rooms to minimise costs,” reads the UN proposal.
Donors have also proposed an immediate end to provision of sitting allowances.
“Participants shall not receive payments (e.g. honoraria) for performing duties during events (e.g. workshop facilitation/ presenting papers /etc.) for which they receive a salary,” she said.
Accommodation shall be provided to participants only when staying overnight and that those duly invited and actually present are eligible for reimbursements.
The organising institution has the option of paying the actual cost of participants’ dinner directly to the hotel full board or offering them a cash allowance for dinner within the agreed maximum established limits.
The Department for International Development (DfID), African Development Bank, Flanders International Cooperation Agency, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and World Bank have agreed to abide to these principles
The Delegation of the European Union to Malawi, German, Iceland, Ireland and Royal Norwegian Embassies and the American government also agreed to the guidelines.
President Chakwera on July 25, in his first weekly address to the nation, spoke strongly against the allowance syndrome.
“The only way to fix it is for all of us who have created and perpetuate this culture to come together at various points in the next six months to create a common approach to allowances that makes sense and stops waste,” said Chakwera.
Donor agencies play an important role in designing and financing development programmes and training events.
According to a published research by Arne Tostensen on Chr. Michelsen Institute, governments and donors should promote steps to make more fundamental reforms that change the embedded culture of “per diem hunting” and contain the misuse of per diem pay by managers.
“This problem needs to be addressed as part of a broader civil service reform, addressing pay and compensation structures as well as performance management.
“Ultimately, when justified, the additional monetary per diem benefits should be incorporated into formal wages,” he wrote.
He said efforts should be made to change the widespread acceptance of per diem allowances as a source of extra pay.
“Civil servants at all levels should understand that travel compensation systems are only for the reimbursement of travel expenses–and they need to behave correspondingly. “
Meanwhile, the UN says its proposals started before the new regime came into power.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :