Chimwemwe Lusungu was one of the first beneficiaries of Malawi’s much-touted economic miracle, a large-scale national programme which subsidises agriculture inputs, mainly fertilisers and seed for maize production.
Within five years, her maize yields doubled and her life changed: she had enough to feed her six children and surplus to sell. But now the 45-year-old widow from Lilongwe has neither maize to feed her family nor cash to buy food or pay other vital expenses such as school fees.
“I was struck out from the list of beneficiaries because I was told that government didn’t buy enough fertiliser to distribute to everyone as per usual,” she said when asked why she could not get fertiliser last year.
Lusungu blames her situation on “Cashgate”—a corruption scandal in which senior public officers, bankers and businessmen allegedly siphoned an estimated 6.1 billion kwacha ($15.5m) from government coffers, according to Baker Tilly, the British audit firm hired by former President Joyce Banda to investigate the stealing of public funds.
More arrests in the cashgate scam are in the offing as the new administration steps up investigations to get to the main players and beneficiaries, Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale disclosed, warning that no one will be spared if found to have participated in the looting of public funds.
Kaphale, who lauded the former administration for building the foundation to fight cashgate, said in an exclusive interview with Reuters that “there is renewed political will to make more arrests, focus on assets recovery to recover the proceeds of the crime.”
Over US$12 million (K4.8 billion) is suspected to have been siphoned out from the Ministry of Tourism between July and September 2013 through dubious payouts that have also led to the arrest of two senior officials at the ministry.
During the six-months the Ministry paid out more than K5.8 billion, of which K363 million was paid between April and June 2013 and K5.5 billion was paid between July and September this year.
Of the K5.8 billion that the Ministry paid to various suppliers of goods and services, authorities suspect that K4.8 billion was looted, largely through suspected fraudulent transactions involving 44 private companies.
Of this loot, K4.6 billion was ransacked between July and September this year and the remaining K322 million vanished between April and June 2013.
The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and the Anti-Corruption Bureau have tagged the payments as suspicious and are currently investigating leading to the arrest of the Ministry’s principal secretary Tressa Namathanga Senzani and chief tourism officer Leonard Kalonga.
Malawi’s finance minister Ken Lipenga is facing calls to resign his position after last month’s shooting of his budget director followed by revelations of massive pilferage of public funds amounting to over K1.2 billion (over $4 million) from treasury.
Paul Mphwiyo, appointed as budget director by President Joyce Banda early this year, was shot three times and left for dead as he drove into his residence in Lilongwe.
Since the shooting, a joint investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau and police, has since implicated the budget director himself, some unnamed minister, in a racket that was looting public coffers through dubious payments in billions.
“At first we gave the finance minister 30 days in which to resign…but we think this is too much because all this has happened on his watch and he has to resign immediately,” said John Kapito, a leading activist.