Monday, September 7, 2009

MEC defies AG order

Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) has defied order from Auditor General (AG) order not to engage PricewaterHouse Cooper, an audit firm without seeking permission from the AG office. Malawi News can reveal that Mec has arbitrary reengaged PricewaterHouse Cooper without following the procedures.

At the meantime two auditing groups, one from government’s national audit office and the others from private audit firm are currently auditing Mec despite the reservations from government in engaging the private firm.

Mec spokesperson Fegus Lipenga confirmed that Pricewater House Cooper was auditing the Commission along side government auditors from the Office of the attorney general in Blantyre, however National Audit office spokesperson Luka Tchoka said Mec did not follow the procedures when engaging Pricewater House Cooper firm.

In a letter dated 24 April 2004, duly signed by the deputy Auditor General L. S. Gomani chided Malawi Electoral Commission for engaging Pricewater House Cooper, an audit firm, without following the procedures.

The letter, reference number MEC/16/2 admonished the Mec for failing to comply with Section 16 of the Electoral Act which requires that engagement of a private sector auditors to audit the commission’s books of Accounts should be approved by the Auditor General.

“In the light of the above observations, your request to engage Pricewater House Cooper to audit Commissions financial transactions for the period of October 2008 to September 2009, have not been approved.

“You may wish to know that the auditors did not carry their first assignment properly, resulting in issuance of incomplete report on alleged misappropriation of public funds. : “The auditors should not have published their report before gathering adequate evidence to support the unprecedented loss of public funds at the Commission,” reads part of the letter.

The letter also accused the Commission of failing to seek the approval of the Director of Public Procurement to use a single source procurement method when procuring the audit services contrary to sections 30 and 36 of the Public Procurement Act.

“The Commission is therefore, advised to start again the procurement process to comply with the provision of the Public Procurement Act and the Public Audit Act… Since the audit services are urgently required, you may wish to seek approval from the Director of Public Procurement to use the request for proposal method as stipulated in Section 34 of the Public Procurement Act. You are also advised to submit the terms of reference for the audit to this office for review and approval before soliciting proposals from private sector audits,” the letter said.

Deputy Auditor general responsible for the Southern Region …Chiluzi said while they were auditing Mec they were surprised to see another team of auditors from the private firm started auditing the same institution.

National Audit office also refused to honour Mec request to provide an official to witness private firm’s auditing saying they do not know the terms of reference for the private firm auditors.

“We were told that the auditors from the private firm were sent by DFiD. It was a donor requirement. The request to provide a witness was refused because it could have been confusing to witness something whose terms of reference wee do not know,” he said.

Chiluzi said Mec did not follow the procedures in procuring the service of the private firm as stipulated in the Public Tendering Act.

Mec spokesperson Fegus Lipenga said PriceWater House Cooper was engaged by the donor community who were supporting the 2009 elections. He said the donors wanted to be sure that their monies were being used for the intended purpose saying the donors identified the firm to conduct the auditing using their own procurement procedures.

On the consultations with the office of Auditor General, Lipenga said the AG was therefore to be consulted not approve the audit adding that: “The Commission recognizes that its books are to be audited by the AG and that is the reason why auditors from the National Audit office are also auditing MEC books. MEC agreed with the Auditor General that the firm should start auditing and the AG will be involved in final stage of the auditing.”

However DFID Malawi Strategic Communications Officer Andrew Massa said has no comment on this issue. We believe this is an issue for Electoral Commission.

“So we kindly ask you to direct the questions to Mr. Fergus Lipenga, Electoral Commission's spokesperson,” she said.

BP Malawi, ex-employees differs over pension scheme

Leading petroleum company, British Petroleum (BP) has threatened to forcefully grant pension benefits to about 20 ex-employees who are not willing to withdraw their pension benefits because of calculation differences.

Disagreements have ensued between the company and its former employees over the system of calculating pension benefits as employees opts for Defined Contribution (DC) scheme while the company insists to calculate the terminal benefits using the Defined Benefits scheme.

The disagreements have been going on since those who were retrenched last year putting the number of those on the waiting list to benefit from the new scheme to 20.

However, in a letter dated August 18, 2009 and duly signed by the company’s Acting General Manager Dasford Kamkwamba, the company told the ex-employees to withdraw their pension with the Defined Benefits scheme as the company’s trustees have not yet make a decision on which scheme to calculate their pension.

Some of the employees speaking on condition of anonymity observed that the company’s insistence to use the Defined Benefits scheme deny them the lump some amount of their benefits and leavening the those managing the trust fund with surplus.

“What would the company going to do with the surplus as the belongs to the employees. The irony that all BP associates in Africa moved from Defined Benefits to Defined Contribution why should BP Malawi find it difficult to do the same.

“Pension fund schemes are supposed to be managed and controlled by elected trustees within a company for BP Malawi they want it to be controlled in London,”

But the said letter management told the ex employees that: “You have up to 8th September if you wish to make use of the options provided. If we do not hear after the said date, we will witdraw your benefits on option 4 (lump sum cash benefit). In recognition that your exist from the organization was not voluntary, the company and trustees have resolved to pay a once off exgratia payment. This is over and above the withdrawal benefits under the DB scheme.”

Kamkwamba said there was nothing they could do to satisfy the ex-employees wishes as the company has not received a go-ahead from their office in London to implement the Defined Contribution scheme.

“The date they left company the scheme was Defined Benefits so we can not calculate different from where they left,” he said.

Kamkwamba said he could not discuss the surplus money to be realized from the change to Defined Contribution because the company have not reached that level: “Lets reach the bridge first.”

Part of the letter reads: “In 2007 BP management communicated the trustees’ proposal for the conversion of BP Pension Fund from the current Defined Benefit (DB) scheme to a Defined Contribution (DC). In view of your preference, management, in line with BP Global Reward’s (BP London) requirement that any proposed change to employee benefits be approved by BP London, notified BP London of the proposed conversion.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Court set May 4 for Madonna adoption hearing

Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal in the capital city Lilongwe will sit on May 4, 2009 to hear the appeal case which Madonna’s lawyers launched following Judge Esme Chombo’s ruling rejecting Madonna’s adoption bid.

Madonna, on April 3 got the shock of her life when Chombo denied her to adopt a three year old Mercy Chifundo James after she had already stayed with the girl for four days. Madonna left the country after failing to get Mercy but said instructed her lawyer Allan Chinula to appeal the judgement.

High court registrar Joseph Chigona confirmed the new dates.

But Chigona refused to disclose Chinula’s grounds for appeal saying that it could be pre-empting the case itself.

In her ruling Chombo said Madonna could not adopt Mercy because [Madonna] did not fulfil the requirement in the Adoptions of Children Act of 18 months residence and foster care.

Having said all this then, at the end of the day I must decline to grant the application for the adoption of the infant CJ,” read part of Chombo’s judgement made in chambers this 3rd day of April 2009

NGO’s in Malawi have been fighting the adoption bid and hailed Chombo’s judgement.

Mess in voter registration threatens election in Malawi

With only 27 days to go to elections, most Malawians are yet to know whether they are going to cast their votes as their particulars, in the voters’ registration book, are mixed up.

Electoral Commission (EC) suspended the voter verification exercise when it was discovered that most names and photographs of the would-be-voters in the computer could not match with those on the voting cards.

This is the first time Malawi has compiled names of the voters in a computer.

In a country that have no national identity cards and with only less than 500,000 owning passports it would be difficult to identify or verify the identity of the would-be voters. Malawi has got a population of over 3 million.

But EC assured Malawians that the mess in the registration will be sorted out and people will be able to vote in the May 19 elections and have since employed 500 teachers to verify the names before taking them to the public again.

All political parties urged EC to suspend the voter verification exercise and sort out the mess in the registration book because it could disfranchise some people.

EC is yet to announce a new date for voter verification exercise. About 5.9 million Malawians are expected to cast their votes in the forth coming election.

Over 1000 people from political parties and independent are aspiring for 193 seats in parliament and seven people are contesting for the presidency.

Millions of people are likely to fail to cast their votes if the mess could not be sorted out in time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Malawi divided over Madonna adoption failure

Madonna adoption failure has divided the country with common people accusing the courts and Non Governmental Organisations of sabotaging chances of good living for three year old Mercy Chifundo James, however the NGOs have put their foot down that they could not allow Madonna to bend the laws of the country.

Madonna left the country a day after Judge Esme Chombo threw out her application to adopt Mercy Chifundo James, she however instructed her lawyer Allan Chinula to appeal against the ruling. The court is yet to set the new date for the fresh hearing.

However ordinary Malawians believed that the courts could have used the ruling in 2006 that allowed Madonna to adopt another Malawian boy David Banda to facilitate the adoption of Mercy Chifundo James.

In 2006 Madonna controversially succeeded in adopting David Banda amid court fights and objects from NGOs over the adoption laws.

“Malawians would take advantage of Madonna’s generosity to allow her to adopt more orphans who would lead a good life elsewhere. We can not afford to take care of all these orphans,” said James Taulo, a concerned citizen.

In Malawi a foreigner is allowed to adopt a Malawian child after staying in the country for 18 months. However the laws were bent when the high court allowed Madonna to adopt David Banda before staying 18 months in the country.

Government then appointed personnel from Ministry of Gender, women and Children development to be monitoring Madonna for 18 months before the court made an adoption ruling which formally recognised Madonna as the mother to little David.

But Madonna second attempt to adopt another child in Malawi met resistance as NGOs accused Madonna of taking advantage of the laws of Malawi to whisk children out of the country. The NGOs called for orphans to be raised in their own communities.

Human Rights Conservative Committee (HRCC) described Madonna’s second attempt to adopt another child in the country as ‘kidnapping’.

Chairperson of HRCC Mabvuto Bamusi said adopting two children would not solve the orphan problems in the country.

“Children have to grow in the family set up. The country has over 2 million orphans. Will all of them going to be adopted? Let us be serious,” he said.

Plan International, a child development organisation, welcomed Judge Chombo for the landmark of declining Madonna’s adoption of a second African child saying the organisation endorses the keeping of children within their community.

A Plan spokesman said: “While Madonna’s intentions were no doubt well-meant and while we feel for her in this case, whisking a single child off to a ‘fairytale’ lifestyle in Hollywood is not something we condone. We endorse keeping children within their community wherever possible, where there is often extended family nearby.

“We believe a better way for her to help would be to act as a champion of change and use her celebrity status and profile to influence government and businesses to ensure a better life for the country’s children. That way all Malawi’s children would benefit and not just one or two.”

But government, through its spokesperson Patricia Kaliati, expressed sadness on the turn of events saying it was supporting Madonna’s efforts to adopt a second Malawi child.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Kunkuyu ‘staged’ abduction

The abduction of one the then Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) aspirants Moses Kunkuyu, which surprised the nation in December during the party’s primary elections, was staged. The police have concluded.

A source at police southern regional office in Blantyre said investigations on the issue indicated that the abduction was pretentious and that the report was sent to Lilongwe for direction on the matter, however Kunkuyu rubbishes off the police findings.

The nation wake up on Friday December 12, 2008, with stories of disappearance of one of the then DPP aspirants for Blantyre South Constituency, Kunkuyu, causing panic in Blantyre city and subsequently leading to the postponement of the primary elections.
The 29 year old Kunkuyu was found tied up, ‘in good health but traumatised’, at a bush near Bvumbwe produce market in Thyolo district 24 hours after he was reported missing.

However the source told Malawi News that the investigations which police carried revealed that Kunkuyu was in Limbe at Kadjedza Lodge, in room 120, ostensibly with a woman at the time he was reported missing.

“He made a telephone call around the time when he was supposed to be in captive, making a reservation at a Lodge in Limbe, the receptionist confirmed. We also get hold of the lady in question and she also confirmed that she was with him,” said the source.

The source said it is believed that Kunkuyu had an accomplice, the person who took him around from Mandala—the place he feigned the abduction to Kanjedza Lodge and then from Kanjedza to Bvumbwe where he was found tied up.

“We believe that it was the same person who reported to have seen a man tied up along the road who was the accomplice, the place where the drop was made was so systematic that he should not stay long before police found him.

“Another thing which raised a lot of eyebrows was the fact that at the place where he claimed was dropped, there was a lot of mud due to rains that fell that day but his clothes were not as dirty. If he had been dropped, say from a speeding car, he could have been muddy all over, but that was not the case,” said the source.

The police officer also said it seems like the person who came, claimed to be a relative, to pick him up after the discovery only took a short time to arrive at Bvumbwe police station considering that, his relatives were in Blantyre it could have taken a lot of time to come to Bvumbwe.

“The so called relative gave police force identification particulars and cannot be traced and the number the presented to the police could not be reached,” he said.
He said the investigations were concluded sometime back and the file was sent to Police Headquarters in Lilongwe to recommend the action the police could take on the matter.

“We are waiting for direction. We are ready to arrest Kunkuyu for giving police false information,” he said.

Kanjedza Longe Manager Wyson Phiri confirmed police questioning the receptionist on duty on that particular day about the possibility of Kunkuyu conniving with him to effect his disappearance.

In the interview with the receptionist, Elton Nkhata said he told the police that on that day, December 12, 2008, three men come at around 1 pm inquiring if they could have a room at night.

He said the said people then insisted of taking his mobile number which they were calling throughout the night up until 3 am when a person arrived at the lodge and occupy room 120 at the lodge.

“I booked him in as Shawa only he told me that he wanted to rest a little bit he was on his way to Zomba, he whoever asked me if he could stay up to the evening of that day. My bosses started asking when they noticed that at 4pm keys for room 120 were missing when the room itself was looking like was not occupied.

“I went in and knock at the door just to check and I found that the man was still there despite the fact that curtains were drawned,” he said.

Nkhata said after a week police summoned him to answer why his number of found on call print out shit of Kunkuyu’s number, 09897773.

“That was when I told them the whole story, at first they thought I was an accomplice but later they understood my position,” he said.

Southern region spokesperson Davie Chingwalu said confirmed the conclusion of the investigation but refused to disclose that contains in the report.
“We have concluded investigations on the matter,” he said.

Kunkuyu described the police findings as mere fabrications aiming at destroying him politically and challenged the police to come out in the open with the findings if they have evidence pertaining to that.

“The police have got all the machinery to cook up the story. It is all political. I have suffered and I am still suffering because of that issue. There is not truth in what the police are saying,” he said.

Kumkuyu’s disappearance caused a steer in Blantyre as some people started pointing accusing figures on his political rivals of carrying out the abduction.

Kunkuyu is said to have received a phone call, on that fateful night, to pick up a sick person in his ambulance which was made available to the people free of charge.
It was said that instead of Kunkuyu going to the hospital with his driver, as has been the case, he travelled alone with the purported sick people, who turned up to be his assailants.

Kunkuyu will be contesting as an independent MP.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Journalist assaulted

Malawi Police, on October 22, 2008 assaulted a Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) journalist Emmanuel Chibwana. Chibwana, in the company of a colleague, met his fate after Police overheard him saying why they were busy arresting and assaulting people found wearing camouflage gear and doing nothing on shop owners who publicly sell the outfits.

The comment irked the police who accused his of obstructive police officer on duty and detained a Chilomoni resident. However the matter was changed and Chibwana was later charged of putting on military apparel.