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More casualties in K6.2 billion scandal: Malawi leader orders interdiction of 10 PSs, 28 DCs

President Lazarus Chakwera

BLANTYRE-(MaraviPost)—Reports reaching Maravi Post indicate that President Lazarus Chakwera, in his pursuit to enforce accountability for the missing K6.2 billion Covid-19 response funds, has  ordered an immediate interdiction of 10 principal secretaries (PSs), 28 district commissioners (DCs) and five other senior officers interdicted.

In an interview with local media yesterday, presidential press secretary Brian Banda said the concerned controlling officers and Covid-19 response cluster heads have also been suspended from their substantive positions in the public service.

“They [controlling officers] have also been suspended in their respective jobs and positions in the civil service. They were in these Covid-19 clusters based on their posts and not as individuals,” he said.

The PSs or controlling officers suspended are from ministries of Health; Gender, Community Service and Social Welfare; Labour; Education; Homeland Security; Agriculture; Lands; Local Government; and Information.

Besides the 28 DCs, the interdictions have also extended to chief executive officers for Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba city councils; Kasungu and Luchenza municipal councils and Mangochi Town Council, according to Banda.

On why Minister of Health Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, the other co-chairperson of the task force was spared, he said that as Cabinet minister she will be subjected to a Cabinet assessment.

“The minister is a political head appointed by the President and her performance is subject to the Cabinet assessment which the President is undertaking.

 “But with regards to Covid-19 response, the President has suspended the technical heads whose job is to control standards and expenditure as controlling officers,” Banda said.

There are 15 clusters of coordination; communication; health; water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash); protection and social support; economic empowerment; employment and labour force; education; security; transport; agriculture; nutrition; shelter; and local government.

But labour law expert Mauya Msuku has described the extension of the suspension to substantive positions of the cluster heads in the civil service as tricky, saying that interdiction must apply in cases where it can easily be proved that holding of office can potentially interfere with investigations.

He said the presidential directive may not be sufficient to warrant interdiction or suspension as there has to be an administrative arrangement to communicate the same to affected employees in writing as well as grounds for the decision.

 Msuku said: “Essentially, the presidential directive is not sufficient that is why perhaps he directed the SPC [Secretary to the President and Cabinet] to effect the suspension not to be seen to be usurping power from institutions that handle employment matters.

 “For PSs, it can be argued that the President has powers to make such action because they report to the SPC who is appointed by the President, but I insist that there has to be written communication on this.”

He argued that the officers should have been suspended or removed from clusters and not interdicting them on their substantive positions.

“It is a practice in government to interdict someone each time there is an allegation. It must be for a purpose, for example, where there is sufficient suspicion that they would prejudice the investigation.

“I do not really know the relationship between the PS and management of Covid-19 funds, but I think not every allegation must be subjected to interdiction and this is one case,” Msuku said.

On his part, Institute for Policy Interaction executive director Rafiq Hajat said the suspension has the potential to victimise some people while shielding actual wrongdoers.

The interdiction of the senior officers comes few days after the president fired the commissioner for the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) and a co-chairperson of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 for failing to demand accountability on funds spent on fighting the pandemic.

Chakwera also ordered an immediate overhaul of the country’s civil service, saying the “whole system is corrupt and in need of cleanup.”

The president’s moves follows reported mismanagement of over 6.2 billion Malawi kwacha (about 8 million U.S. dollars) meant for COVID-19 response, as exposed by the country’s Office of the Ombudsman.

In a related development, Deputy Director in the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), Fyawupi Mwafongo, was on Tuesday arrested by Malawi Police for his alleged involvement in the K6.2 billion scandal.

On Feb. 7, the Malawi leader gave controlling officers and cluster leaders in COVID-19 committees 48 hours to submit comprehensive expenditure reports on the funds, a task most of the leaders failed to fulfill.

The K6.2 billion scandal came in the limelight after patriotic citizen Idriss Ali Nassah, using an access to information law, asked for a detailed expenditure report from DoDMA.

However, the disaster department failed to do as demanded, a move that raised eye brows and the president joined the cause by demanding the reports from all cluster leaders within 48 hours.

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