Malawi President
FILE – Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera takes the oath of office in Lilongwe, Malawi, June 28, 2020.

By Z Allan Ntata

At the risk of being accused of always criticizing and never praising the government when praise is due, I will still maintain that I remain unconvinced with the President’s speech and the actions enunciated in his speech regarding the Covid-gate scandal last Sunday. After all, there is nothing new in such an accusation. Praise singers will always claim that I never give credit or praise the president, when this column has actually commended and congratulated various useful occurrences on numerous occasions. This time, however, I am in no mood to simply be moved by powerful speeches that offer only superficial actual responses and that serve as nothing other than window-dressing the problems that this country is facing. We have serious problems and we need serious commentary as well as serious responses from our leaders. Make no mistake about that. 

Folks , when I warned president Chakwera to “beware the ides of March” in my uncommon sense thoughts on the scandal last week, with the benefit of some leaked pages of the covid investigation/audit report, it never occurred to me that the full report would contain worse allegations that would make my stomach turn and my body parts shrink.

But reading that it took six months just to make payment for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) while doctors and nurses desperately needed them in the frontline of the fight against covid 19 makes me wonder whether we are a nation with any aspirations at all or just a group of homo sapiens without direction.

There is absolutely no excuse for such a delay in procurement of necessary materials in protecting our frontline soldiers in a war to save our own lives. I honestly don’t see any reason why duty bearers in the Ministry of Health and at Central Medical Stores Trust would still keep their current positions. This was equivalent to murder.

How did these people sleep in their houses knowing that they were seating on money necessary in the fight against a disease that was killing fellow countrymen everyday? I have the answer to that one. They didn’t care at all. And that is what makes me angry. This is absolutely unacceptable and serious action must be taken against these heartless people.

It is disappointing that even the presidential task force accepted such negligence and delays in the procurement of PPEs. The Task Force never did anything about the delay- not even sounding the alarm to the authorities concerned that they were experiencing such problems or that there were such unacceptable inefficiencies.  It is clear to me from the analysis of the facts that they never even followed up! Yet everyday they faced the cameras and the media and assured Malawians that they were doing their best! The only thing they were doing their best about was collecting their allowances, isn’t it?

Another heartbreaking revelation was the fact that the office of President and Cabinet (OPC), against procurement procedures and laws, handpicked a company called Pest Chem 1B to fumigate Capital Hill and Kamuzu Palace. The office of president and cabinet of all places! This is an office that is supposed to set examples of strict adherence to our laws. Yet it was in the forefront breaking them.

The company was not only handpicked, it was paid 26 million Kwacha for work that could have been done by a government department for as low as 1.5 million Kwacha! In total, Pest Chem 1B pocketed about 97 million of the precious covid Kwachas. Such heartless plunder of public resources spearheaded by the office of president and cabinet makes me cry for my beloved country.

In my uncommon sense, a company can not just be handpicked and paid millions of Kwachas without the knowledge of the top echelons in the office of president and cabinet. But if the top most bosses claim that they had no knowledge or never played a part in this murderous waste of public resources, I still have problems about it. A loss of millions of Kwachas in such a high office without the top bosses knowing would mean incompetence of the highest proportions. Therefore, any action that excludes them is nothing but mere window dressing. Such suspiciously selective action should not be applauded.

The Department for Disaster Management (DoDMA), which is the centre of the covid 19 response, is located in the office of the president and cabinet. This cluster is guilty of soliciting quotations from the same suppliers in tenders where only one supplier won all the time. When the auditors interviewed one of the suppliers appearing on the quotations that OPC illegally solicited, he denied having ever submitted a quotation! This is an incredible scandal. Such blatantly dubious procurement of services happening right under the president’s nose in the office of president and cabinet should not be tolerated.

The office of the president has been tarnished by the Covid Scandal. If heads are supposed to roll on this issue, they should start in this office. Only then will I be impressed and convinced that the president is really serious. Yes, folks! The president needed to first clean up his office before pointing fingers at various offices and officers such as Minister Ken Kandodo who was summarily dismissed from cabinet via that speech.

Another disheartening discovery in the report was the fact that DoDMA paid over 12.3 million Kwacha as conference package charges for the meetings of the Presidential Task Force on covid 19 held at Bingu Conference Centre. According to the report, the payment included professional allowances, fuel and airtime for the Presidential Task Force and allowances for support staff amounting to over 8.6 million Kwacha. The only money due to Umodzi Park was just about 3.7 million Kwacha. Now I would like you to pause for a second and think about why a government professional officer would ignore all public finance management procedures and think that it is perfectly fine to get money from public funds, pay a private company so that the company pays allowances to government officers. This is scandalous! It’s deplorable! It’s criminal!

Do you think you have heard enough and I should stop right here? No folks, you have not. At the same department, yes at DoDMA, right in the office of the president, about 11 million Kwacha of Covid money simply vanished without trace! Let me repeat, this is the office of the president and cabinet. If this can happen right in the president’s office, what about in other lower offices?

There is no better evidence that can show that the country is losing billions of dollars to selfish thieves who think about themselves. Our poverty is self-inflicted. If resources were used as planned in this country, we could have been a middle-income country by now.

So, once again I will affirm that I am not impressed with a speech that simply sought to find scapegoats and point fingers. There is more rot in the president’s office than anywhere else, and until he acts and starts clearing the bigger rubble in his office, I will not be impressed by his speeches anymore. I would rather accept the accusations that I am a naysayer, and hope that posterity will judge me better for my high standards and my refusal to be simply an easily impressed, brainless praise-singer.

Z Allan Ntata
NBS Bank Your Caring Bank