Local Councils Feast on Covid-19 Funds as Officials Pocket Hefty Allowances
While health workers in remote based health centers were struggling to work in the wake of the raging corona virus, their bosses at district health offices and councils were wallowing in covid 19 funds - Pocketing daily subsistence allowances, diverting funds to non covid19 activities and in some instances inflating figures on covid19 PPEs.
In Chitipa district the council threw all caution to the dogs in using the covid19 money allocated to the district.
DODMA allocated K30 million to the council where money was to be used to fund efforts in the fight against the pandemic.
While health centers were struggling to rationalize the use of PPEs which were always insufficient, council officials including other top health officials pocketed hefty sums of money on the pretext of conducting awareness campaigns, conducting surveillance and screening errands in some parts of the districts
According to information sourced from some councilors who opted for anonymity about officials from the health, information and the DCs office pocketed daily subsistence allowances while on duty in the same district instead of lunch allowances.
Over K4.1 million was used in paying daily subsistence allowances to officers working in the same district.
Some of the officers blew K90000.00 being daily substance allowances for gallivanting up and down the district in what was termed surveillance of covid19 outbreak
On awareness some officials under the Chitipa district council blew K200, 000 in conducting public awareness using a vehicle installed with an address system
The council coordination committee on preparedness and response plundered K640000 during meetings aimed at evaluating the covid19 efforts
A meagre K80, 000, was spent by two people who conducted screening services
Chairperson for Chitipa district council Mercy Mpoha said as council members they were not aware that the secretariat through approvals by the District commissioner a Mr Ngoka were drawing such allowances.
"I don't have all the records on how the money was being used as every time I ask for the documents am told to wait for the audit as demanded by the President", said Mpoha
On the other hand the council diverted K90000.00 of the funds under the K30 million allocation for the fight against the pandemic to host a full council meeting which discussed issues not related to the spread of the novel corona virus.
Our investigations also took us to Likoma island where we also discovered maladministration in the use of the allocated 30 million kwacha covid 19 funds.
The Chairperson for the council Earnest Gulu is not amused. Gulu says at first when the council received the funds committees were formulated which came up with mitigation activities on how to spring a response plan.
But then the committees according to Gulu were dismantled after the council received new guidelines from the ministry of local government on how the funds ought to be used.
"So the dismantling of these committees which we had made brought a lot of tensions as communities including traditional leaders, members of ADC started having doubts on whether the funds will be used for their intended purpose”, said Gulu
He says the situation blew out of hand when health workers in the district who were frustrated with how things were being done staged a sit in thereby putting the lives of a lot of people on the island in danger
“So yes we had some partial awareness meetings but on whether I have records of all the financial transactions no I do have some of them as they were being done by the office of the director of finance"
He said some of the covid19 personal protective equipment’s were not being bought and that funds were not used according to the guidelines on use of covid19 funds.
"After they dismantled the first committees and replaced them following the covid19 guidelines from local government a lot of transactions and almost all payments were being done by the office of the director of finance so it was tricky as there was not transparency of any sort"
Gulu told this reporter he as a council chair does not have records on transactions on some of the diverted activities saying the financial reports they were getting from the secretariat did not marry with the equipments that were bought.
Among others according to inside sources the council diverted K900, 000 from the K30 million covid19 funds and used it for hosting a full council meeting where issues of covid19 were not on the table
Likoma district health management team blew another K900, 000 in allowances on the pretext of supervising the activities aimed at halting the spread of the pandemic at the island
Investigations in other councils - the Mmbelwa district council and Kasungu district council revealed that hefty sums of money from the covid19 funds were also diverted to pay for other things that had no bearing on the fight against the pandemic
This was being done when most health facilities under district main hospitals were lacking in sufficient PPEs for health workers.
Medical assistant for Edingeni health center in Mzimba south Samuel Tsuka said at one time they were washing their hands with plain water due to lack of soap and had no hand washing gadgets
"We have been struggling most of the times we faced challenges of shortage of PPEs like face masks, hand washing gadgets even soap was a problem sometimes we washed our hands with plain water which is not good with the pandemic.", said Tsuka.
He said most of the times they have been bailed out by non governmental organizations working in the area like Word Alive Commission for Relief and Development - WACRAD.
Instead of buying PPEs, or conducting awareness endeavours in remote areas, or training some of the health workers on covid19, provide them with PPEs on the pandemic, in Mzimba some of the funds went towards the training of newly recruited health surveillance assistants between December 2020 to march 2021
"Some HSAs had just been recruited by the council so there was need to train them hence management decided to get funds from the covid19 package to carter for the training", said an inside source at Mzimba district hospital speaking on conditions of confidentiality.
About K6.2 million was diverted from the covid19 funds to train the newly recruited HSAs - according to our source.
Our investigations through interviews with inside sources at the hospital established that management were relying on donations from various stakeholders who were responsible for PPEs inform of masks ,face shields , sanitizers and hand washing gadgets a thing which gave room to tamper with funds allocated for the same.
However, it was noted that such donations were taking ages to be distributed to over 30 health centers which are affiliated to the main hospital.
Health workers in remote based health facilities told us to find mere face masks for daily use was a struggle.
Inevitably in Mzimba south alone 74 health care workers were infected with the virus. Some of these health care workers were working in remote based health centers like Raiply, Chikangawa, Mkoma, Jenda, Katete, Embangweni mission hospital, Euthini and Mzambazi mission hospital apparently due to shortages of PPEs.
Like in Likoma, health workers disgruntled with the way covid19 funds were being used staged a sit in that led to the transfer of the then director of health and social services Dr Lumbani Munthali who was being accused of gross abuses in the use of the funds
"Imagine K500,000 was used to pay for repairs of a public address system which had developed faults don't you think the money is enough to buy new equipment,said our source.
While covid19 funds were diverted to fund training for newly recruited HSAs in Mzimba, in Kasungu almost all of the K30 million allocation was used to pay the councils direct employees with a view of repaying the money after collecting enough revenue.
This was being done when the virus was raging.
Our investigations have also revealed that most councils lack capacity especially in providing checks and balances in the use of funds the central government allocates on a yearly basis hence the issue of alleged maladministration in the use of the K1.3 billion for efforts to fight covid19.
For example most councils do not have internal auditors where a lot of funds end up being used in transactions where there are no supporting documents during payments.
Executive director for center for social accountability and transparency Willy Kambwandira feels the alleged plunder of resources at councils and on the national scale should not go unpunished.
Kambwandira says all those found to have filled their pockets illegally without following laid down guidelines in procurement or disbursement of allowances should be promptly prosecuted
"As CSAT, we are looking forward to see that those who participated in the malpractices that resulted in the loss of the money should be made to pay back and that government should ensure that all malpractices that are criminal in nature should be handed over to law enforcement agencies for further action and attention" said Kambwandira
He says in this seemingly plunder for all no one should be shielded from facing the law.
Kambwandira also notes that despite audit reports revealing irregularities that point to plunder of resources at district councils or other government agents there is no action taken towards bringing perpetrators to book
According to Kambwandira failure to act on the plunder of public funds will portray a picture of a government that glorifies impunity at the expense of poor Malawians
"Failure to prosecute and take appropriate sanctions against public officers involved in the mismanagement of the K 6.2 billion Covid funds will be clear statement of not only glorifying impunity and the rot in the civil service. It is our expectation that the audit report will be made public and we concerned with the continued delay",said Kambwandira.
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