Malawi: Over 1700 Public Officers Haven't Declared Their Assets - Why Is Govt Not Acting Dismissing Them?

The Public Appointments Committee (PAC) of Parliament says it will push for the dismissal of over 1700 public officers who have not declared their assets, businesses and liabilities as the law dictates.

PAC also wants the naming and shaming of public officers who ignore the Public Officers (Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Business Interests) Act, which has existed for 10 years now.

Committee chairperson Joyce Chitsulo said this on Wednesday after director of the Office of the Director of Public Officers' Declarations Michael Chiusiwa briefed PAC on the declarations report set for release next month.

She is particularly bitter with five institutions, including the Malawi Defence Force (MDF), which did not submit declarations in the reviewed 2022/23 financial year, out of 208. She is also not impressed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which only filed half of the expected declarations.

MDF's no-show partners are Chitipa District Council, Northern Region Education Division, Central West Education Division and Central East Education Division.

At individual level, 1 788 out of 14 571 listed public officers (LPOs) failed to comply in the 2022/23 financial year, representing 88 percent compliance rate, up from 77 percent in the previous reporting period, but Chitsulo says it is not high enough and wants heads to roll.

In an interview yesterday, Chitsulo said her committee has summoned some controlling officers, Comptroller of Statutory Corporations and Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC). She said PAC will recommend dismissal of non-compliant officers.

She said: "This is not just about staff members, but also board members and it is good to have them fired and replace them with those who can comply with the law. For MDF, they are not above the law and we are meeting them shortly.

"As for Foreign Affairs, we are meeting them on Monday next week. Each group has been given time to appear before the committee. We will ensure that we work and if the government does not act, people will know that Capital Hill doesn't want to fight corruption."

Chitsulo said the law is not new and that those not complying were doing so deliberately; hence, the need for naming and shaming as well as termination.

She said: "This law exists to ensure that we guard against corruption, so if such institutions are not complying, then it is worrisome.

"It is even sad for Ministry of Foreign Affairs because we have had issues of abuse of resources in embassies, [therefore], failure to declare assets is worrisome indeed."

In the 2021/22 fiscal year, 7 000 LPOs did not submit their declarations.

Major culprits of low compliance rates in the upcoming report include Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services, Department of Civil Aviation, Malawi Police Service, Judiciary, Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom), Malawi Posts Corporation (MPC), Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority and Kamuzu Central Hospital.

In his presentation, Chiusiwa said compliance in the political category was 100 percent for Cabinet members while for parliamentarians and ward councillors it was 99 percent and 98 percent, respectively.

He said local councils slackened, with a compliance rate of 86 percent compared to 90 percent last year with Lilongwe District Council being the lowest at 48 percent compliance.

Said Chiusiwa: "For councillors, Mangochi Town and District councils have three councillors each who did not submit, Balaka, Machinga and Lilongwe City Council have one each while Lilongwe District has two."

Ministries, which account for eight percent of all LPOs in the country, have a 78 percent compliance rate, an improvement on last year's 63 percent score.

Ministries of Energy, Tourism and Justice registered 100 percent compliance rate while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the worst performer with a 41 percent score because 97 officers, mostly from embassies, defaulted

Chiusiwa said reasons for non-compliance vary from lack of knowledge, negligence, poor coordination and communication within institutions and difficulties to access the ODPOD after the declaration period for officers outside Lilongwe city.

"As a way forward, validating names of LPOs who have complied and those who have defaulted is still in progress. The compliant and non-compliant names of LPOs are expected to be published in a Gazette in June with funding from [United Nation Development Programme]," he said.

The Public Officers (Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Business Interests) Act compels LPOs to declare their assets in the first three months of the year or after occupying a listed position.

Section 18 of the Act, among others, calls for dismissal of listed officers who "without reasonable cause, fail to submit the required declaration".

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