PAC hearings on Malawi Auditor General’s report suspended: Crisis!

Cracks have appeared in the Malawi Constitution following an impromptu suspension of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearings over the Auditor General’s Report on the Accounts of the City, Town and District Councils in Lilongwe, Nyasa Times has learnt.

A scheduled full hearing for the controlling officers on  the management of public funds in the country’s local councils were brought to a halt after a legislator Henry Mussa sought the PAC’s chairperson’s guidance in hearing the audit queries in absence of the Auditor General and his deputy or a government appointed person to act on his behalf.

Parliament officials said the meetings were to take place between  3rd September to 14th September, 2012 but have been suspended indefinitely until the Speaker of Parliament Henry Chimunthu Banda receives a formal communication from the Chief Secretary, Bright Msaka, on what happened to the Auditor General’s position.

Reckford Kampanje: Early retirement

“What we have is an unofficial communication that the Auditor General Mr. Reckford Kampanje is on leave pending his retirement but we have no official communication from Government on what this means and who is now stepping in his shoes,” said one member of the committee.

Mussa is said to have reminded the Chairperson Beatrice Mwangonde of the provisions in the Malawi Constitution and the Public Audit Act section 184 which speaks on the establishment and appointment of the Auditor General’s office.

“I have listened to the introductions honourable Chair, and I have not heard of the position of Auditor General or the Deputy Auditor General all am hearing are the positions of assistant auditor general and chief auditors, could we discuss the legal document by the Auditor General in his absence, is that lawful?” Mussa is quoted as to have said according to the recording which Nyasa Times has.

The section under question 184 of the Public Audit Act speaks of the office of the Auditor General, his appointment and his removal from office.

The Auditor General is appointed by the President and is confirmed by the plenary in Parliament unlike other positions. This means, whatever decisions made on the AG’s office must be communicated to the Speaker of Parliament by the Office of the President and Cabinet which was not the case.

“We have sought an interpretation of the law by the Attorney General Ralph Kasambara on how we can proceed, so we are still waiting,” a Parliament official said.

Now, the cracks may grower wider than expected, prior to Kampanje’s appointment in 2008 to replace the late AG Kalongonda, the Deputy Auditor General Sam Gomani took the charge of leading the National Audit Office to the hearings as matter of convenience but that was too, unlawful.

“There was a precedence set during that time that the deputy took charge of such meetings but legally that was wrong because his position is not in the Constitution that precedence was bad and cannot be repeated. No one can act in the position of Auditor General in any other capacity unless is given that substantive position,” said one legal expert.

This now means all Auditor General’s reports done by the National Audit Office cannot be presented to parliament.

No communication

There has been a serious concern expressed by the parliamentarians on the way government officials especially those approved by the Public Appointments Committee of parliament have been dismissed or forced to retire without the OPC writing the Speaker of Parliament regarding the changes.

“We are dismayed with lack of professionalism from those assisting the President in these matters, they need to inform the Speaker’s office of any changes since most approvals were done by parliament and parliament head needs to know of these changes,” said one legislator.

No replacement

The President Joyce Banda will now have to re-coin her tactics to replace Kampanje due to the way the AG drafted his letter to OPC requesting his employers granting him all leave days waiting his retirement.

This administrative request still stands as a bottleneck to the government’s executive since no any other Auditor General can be appointed with Kampanje still on leave.

“His letter, which I have seen tells his employers that he wants to go for leave and not necessarily telling the Chief Secretary that I have gone on early retirement as portrayed in the media,” said one senior government administrator.

He says government will have to commute all leave days for Kampanje which are lesser than his period to end of contract and retirement, pay him all the benefits which will make his position vacant.

“Right now the President will be running a risk of appointing a new Auditor General into office with the other still on leave,” warned the administrator.

Political tussle at play

Even after clearing off Kampanje in an administrative arena, President Banda may still bump into another tussle in confirming the new Auditor General given a background of several appointees’ names thrown back by the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament including the confirmation of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) deputy Director Victor Banda in July 2012.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) largely presented in Parliament and the disgruntled United Democratic Front (UDF) members will certainly try to throw the spanners in the works.

“The Auditor General’s name is approved by the whole plenary meaning the whole parliament. This will bring back the memories of 2008 where several names including Mr. Mchenga was rejected out of politics, the DPP was in minority and lost its push on Mchenga,” suggested one political analyst.

Kampanje an accomplished civil servant was given more power by the President Joyce Banda by elevating the post of the Auditor General equal to that of Deputy Chief Secretary early this year.

However, an opinion by the Private auditors Deloitte on DFID and Norway funded projected faulted the National Audit Office on using different rates of allowances than agreed. The two institutions demand repayment of the used funds despite NAO effectively concluding all audits for the City, Town and District councils from years 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Kampanje bite the bullet by requesting all his leave days pending retirement as rare show of professionalism.

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