Phuka fired for lacking strong leadership skills
* They both ignored red flags highlighted in the Ombudsman’s November 2010 report
* Both heads for DODMA and the COVID-19 Taskforce lacked strong leadership
* Orders Secretary to the President and Cabinet to suspend all cluster heads with immediate effect
* The suspensions to pave way for a full forensic audit by National Audit Office
* Alleged elements of criminal conduct by those who abused or misappropriated funds to be address
By Duncan Mlanjira
President Lazarus Chakwera has fired Dr. John Phuka, the technical co-chairperson of presidential task force on COVID-19 as well as Commissioner for Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DODMA) over abuse of the K6.2 billion COVID-19 funds.
Chakwera announced this on Sunday in his national address, saying even though the Ombudman’s raised reg flags in November over COVID-19 spending, the two technical heads left it unchecked by not reporting directly to the President as they were supposed to have done.
“As such, I have also directed the Secretary to the President and Cabinet to effect the replacement of both the Commissioner of DODMA and the technical co-chair of the Taskforce on COVID-19,” he said.
He has replaced Phuka with Dr. Chalamira Nkhoma while the new DODMA Commissioner will be named soon.
The President said both DODMA and the COVID-19 Taskforce require strong leadership and, apart from a change of leadership, he will be strengthening the vigilance of his Taskforce by adding to it representatives of civil society organizations (CSOs) and watchdog bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Malawi Human Rights Commission, “all of whom have already shown great initiative in wanting to be part of the solution”.
Chakwera’s strong resolve comes after expressing his outrage over the alleged abuse of COVID-19 funds and lack of financial accountability for the same by certain clusters entrusted with K6.2 billion for tackling the pandemic.
The abuses sparked public outrage on social media as well as official public condemnation from various CSOs, which asked the President to take a stern action and bring to book those found to have been involved in the massive plunder and fraud.
He said the abuses were brought to light by an independent report
released by the Office of the Ombudsman in November 2020 after investigating the matter and upon realizing this, he gave the heads of those clusters and controlling officers 48 hours last week to appear before COVID-19 Taskforce with their reports on how the K6.2 by billion was spent.
“Today, I can report, without fear or favor, that when those cluster heads and controlling officers appeared before my Taskforce on Tuesday as I directed, it was evident that many clusters are poorly led and require corrective measures.
“All cluster heads, with the exception one, submitted reports with no backing documents and had to be told on-site to bring backing documents.”
He added that these are reports of money that was mostly spent last year, “whose backing documents ought to have been maintained regularly as a matter of best practice, and yet cluster heads appeared before my Taskforce showing clear signs of negligence and lack of preparation”.
He further disclosed that in addition to the K6.2 billion that must be accounted for from last year, he released an additional K17.52 billion on January 24 this year to be used in fighting the second wave of the virus.
“To make sure that this new disbursement would be more closely monitored, I gave a directive that the heads of these clusters will be required to submit to my office a report of their expenditure every week and I will immediately deal with any cluster that fails to do this.”
“Today, three weeks later, there are at least 12 clusters that have not even began to do this. When these two offences are considered together — namely showing up with a substandard report that has no backing documents and defying a presidential directive to submit reports on a weekly basis, there is no cluster that is blameless.”
And as a matter of first importance, Chakwera has also directed the Secretary to the President and Cabinet to suspend with immediate effect all cluster heads — “some for failing to maintain proper records of how such critical funds were used and others for defying my directive to submit reports weekly to my office”.
“The suspensions will pave way for a full forensic audit, which the National Audit Office has already began, and a full and independent investigation — which the Director of Public Prosecutions has requested the Malawi Police Service to conduct as a matter of urgency.”
He added that he has made these decisions to address accountability lapses at the helm of all clusters, at the helm of DODMA, and at the helm of the Covid-19 Taskforce, “however, there remains the need to address alleged elements of criminal conduct by those who abused or misappropriated funds”.
“As enshrined in the Constitution, these are matters for independent law enforcement agents and forensic auditors, who will do their work independently to pin down the culprits.
“Whether the independent audit and police investigation find the culprits of fraud, abuse, and misappropriation to be individuals at District Councils, or at DODMA, or at District Health Offices, they will be prosecuted accordingly — and I trust our independent Judiciary will do its part to mete out justice.