The Malawi government cash cow, the Malawi Communication Regulations Authority (Macra) is a Father Christmas on ‘call’ because it bails governments’ broke and ailing ministries on the blink of an eye.
Investigations corroborated by documents in Nyasa Times possession reveal that MACRA spent about K66 million between July 2015 and April 2016 in bankrolling the Ministry of Information activities despite the fact the ministry’s had an approved budget line.
Nyasa Times sources at Macra, said the Macra board unanimously approved a K50 million annual basket fund which is intended for use by ministry of Information officials for various errands.
“Usually this fund is exhausted before a year ends and Macra then dips into its other revenue to sustain the fund. In most cases the money withdrawn under dubious activities,” a source said.
Macra’s benevolence as Father Christmas threw to the wind the government’s much touted Public Finance Management Act and the 1998 Communications Act that gives Macra its financial independence and directs that the statutory corporation deposit excess revenue to government’s account number one at the Reserve Bank of Malawi.
Between July 2015 and April 2016 Macra made about 136 payments to the ministry of information financing accommodation and meals for individuals, hiring vehicles for ministry officials, purchasing tires and general repairs for the ministry’s vehicles.
And the bill a whooping K66 million.
Former Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati in a telephone interview confirmed the illegal transactions but failed to provide further details saying she was not in that portfolio when the transactions were done.
For three weeks Macra has failed to respond to our questionnaire to clarify on these transcations.
While former Treasury spokesperson Nations Msowoya faulted MACRA for deliberately breaching the Public Finance Management Act on how any excess income from statutory corporation must be handled.
“All moneys of the Authority which, in the opinion of the Minister of Finance, are in excess of its budgetary requirements shall be paid into the Consolidated Fund, but the Authority shall be entitled to retain such sums as it reasonably requires for its operations,” section 12(5) of the Communications Act states.
While section 16 (1) of the same Act empowers the minister to give direction to Macra on policy matters upon request.
Information gathered also showed that Macra—apart from other several payments for other officials—paid accommodations and meals for four key ministry staff including Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa about K6.5 million, Minister Jappie Mhango about K4.8 million, Principal Secretary Justin Saidi about K4.1 million while former Director of Information Dr Bright Molande pocketed about K1 million.
The defiant MACRA even continued paying Nankhumwa’s accommodation and meals up to December 2015 despite the fact that President Peter Mutharika reshuffled his cabinet on 7th August 2015 where he moved Nankhumwa from Information Ministry to Local government and replaced him with Jappie Mhango.
On August 22, 2015 Macra paid K1.86 million, on September 18, 2015 Macra paid K314,560, on November 23, 2015 Macra paid K620,050, on December 20, 2015 Macra paid K690,406 to Nankhumwa.
Nankhumwa even confirmed Macra’s benevolence labeling it a ‘good course’ arguing Macra engaged him as a technical consultant.
“I helped them with bills like e-transaction and access to information,” he boasted.
Other payments which Macra dole out include: K1.4 million for Nankhumwa on July 8, 2015, K195,268 for Saidi, K100,854, for Mrs T Manda and K1.4 million for the ministry’s vehicle repairs all totaling to K3.1 million.
On July 10, 2015 alone Macra released K8.9 million for local travel allowances for Ministry officials that attended a District Information Office (DIO) function in Blantyre.
In the same month Macra paid K17.6 million to ministry officials and activities and in the successive months it paid amounts in the ranges of K11.5 million in August 2015, K2.7 million in September 2015, K4.8 million in October 2015, K5.9 million in November 2015, K12.5million in December 2015, K6 million in January 2016, and K4.9 million in February 2016.
On December 9, 2015 Macra paid K949 475 for ministry’s various tires.The last transaction shows Macra paid Ministry officials K160, 000 on April 6, 2016.
In the 2015/16 National budget Ministry of Information was allocated an estimate of about Total K1.355 billion, with the head office allocated K316 million, Director of information was allocated K243 million, Regional offices north K55 million, Centre allocated K75 million, South allocated K65 million, Malawi News agency was allocated K277 million, Publications was allocated K65 million, Nice trust was allocated K223 million while Civic education was allocated K36 million.
Ministry of Finance first quarter of 2015/16 ORT expenditure show for the first quarter of the financial year was projected to amount to K113.4 billion (which is total recurrent expenditure less wages and salaries).
Actual expenditures as at the end of the quarter were K116.6 billion which was above the target by K3.2 billion representing an over performance of 2.8 per cent. – Catherine Chimzimu – Nyasa Times – CIJM