Sunday, May 26, 2024

Suspended TCC boss Joseph Chidanti Malunga Resumes Office

Chidanti Malunga

The troubled Chief Executive Officer of the Tobacco Commission, Chidanti Malunga, has reportedly resumed his duties following the intervention of Minister of Local Government Richard Chimwendo Banda.

An internal audit for the budget year 2022-2023, which was leaked, had revealed significant mismanagement and financial misuse at the Commission during Chidanti Malunga’s tenure. This led to his suspension, along with his finance team, earlier last week. “He is back, the Minister allegedly told the Board to reinstate him. No court order, nothing,” our source said late Saturday afternoon.

Audit reveals gross waste, unapproved expenditures

An audit report compiled by the Commission’s Audit Manager, Rhoda Zaniku, indicates that during Chidanti Malunga’s tenure, substantial sums of money were expended without proper authorization, and numerous government regulations concerning procurement and international travel were disregarded. This pattern of behavior mirrors what we have observed in many state-owned enterprises we have reported on, such as ADMARC and MACRA. Chief Executive Officers often act with impunity, occasionally with the support of their respective Boards, when it comes to utilizing public resources, particularly in the areas of travel, procurement, and recruitment.

K126 million blown on a trip to China

The Commission, which has been unsuccessful in assisting tobacco farmers in diversifying their crops, ending the exploitative tenancy system, and embracing new environmentally friendly technologies to reduce tree cutting in the sector, has now become one of the regular travelers at the expense of the public purse. They incurred an expenditure of as much as K126 million on a single trip.

“It has been observed that a trip to China which cost K126 368 784.31 was not included in the budget for 2022-2023,” reads the audit report, which is against the Public Finance Management Act, which prescribes fines up to K50 million for Controlling Officer’s who break it deliberately.

The trip undertaken in 2022 attracted the wrath of the Comptroller of Statutory Corporations who did not approve the trip and among the five officials, all of whom travelled business class which they were not entitled to.

“The audit also found out that despite being reminded by the Comptroller in a letter reference number C1/18/07 dated 04 November 2022, three out of five delegates did not follow expenditure procedures by travelling business class,” reads the report.

President Lazarus Chakwera and his entire administration seem to have been caught by a flying fever that every senior government official is spending more time in the air than in offices.

The China trip also saw the Commission spend an additional K944 241.00 on gifts for Chinese officials. The report states the Commission has no gift policy making it a free-for-all-all decision on what and how much to spend.

The Commission had only budgeted K55 million for its trips termed market promotion but overspent by K187 million hitting K242 305 023.01 in flying alone with tickets hitting a record K115 308 678.02

Despite the Secretary to the President and Cabinet banning business travel within Africa, Tobacco Commission staff defiantly continued to enjoy the expensive business class.

The commission spent K163 081 779.40 on MBC’s Pamajiga Programme

The Chidanti Malunga administration decided to throw away budget dictates and started operating on its own as it committed the Commission to spend K163 081 779.40 on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation’s Pamajiga radio programme.

“The activity which was not budgeted for represents 75.27 percent,” reads the report.

Journalists are also mentioned in the report from major media outlets who signed allowances from K20, 000.00 to K100 000 which was queried in the audit report.

Members of Parliament shared K61 million in allowances

The country’s legislators continue to appear to be part of financial malaise as they are named in the audit report as having spent over K61 million in allowances with the Commission in what was termed as budget consultation meetings.

“Tobacco consultative meetings overspent with K51 065 115 representing 104 percent deficit,” states the report, which did not indicate where these expensive meetings with elected public representatives turned looters took place.

The Commission blew K61 million in allowances, then used K 12.2 million on fuel, K19. 5 million in what is called as conference and an extra K7 million in accommodation for the same meetings, indicating that the K61 million was paid over and above free accommodation, meals and fuel for the MP’s and staff at the Commission.

Other over expenditures

The Commission overspent and paid for services such as billboards in contradiction to set control measures and overspent on every budget item.

Motor vehicle maintenance blew K22 million more than its budget while the fuel budget went up by K13 million in unbudgeted funds.

The Commission got a K14 million internet and VPN service without any budget and paid K6 million for another unbudgeted functional review activity.

No action from the government

Just like in many aspects of public finances, the government under President Chakwera seems to be in a free mode as agencies continue to blow hundreds of millions on expenditures not approved or in defiance of set rules but politically appointed officials know, nobody will bring them into line.

“They appointed their officials, now they must back them up. Malawians are eating politics now under this Tonse Alliance. Nothing will be done,” said an analyst we consulted from the public finance sector.

Malunga and the Commission spokesperson Telephorous Chigwenembe and Chimwendo Banda did not respond to our questions.


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