LILONGWE, MALAWI – Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera on Sunday fired Labour Minister Ken Kandodo for diverting $800 worth of COVID-19 funds to pay for a government trip, part of a wider embezzlement scandal.
In a televised address to the nation, Chakwera said the minister was named in an audit report as having listed the funds in his allowances for the travel to South Africa.
He also fired Labour Minister Ken Kadondo for using COVID-19 money to travel abroad.
Kandodo had used 613,000 kwacha worth of COVID-19 funds for a foreign trip, Chakwera said, adding that even though he had since repaid the money his actions meant it was not available for its intended purpose when it was needed.
“I have dropped him from my cabinet accordingly. Even though the minister has since returned the money, his usage of the funds means that the money was unavailable for its intended purpose when it was needed most,” Chakwera said.
“I cannot have in my cabinet any individuals who either spend the money budgeted for one thing on something else or do not ask tough questions to ensure that the money they are spending on something was budgeted for that purpose.”
Chakwera also ordered the arrest of scores of civil servants implicated in plundering $7.8 million of COVID-19 funds.
“As I speak, over a dozen individuals suspected of committing the crimes exposed by this audit report have just been arrested by the Malawi Police Service. There are no sacred cows. There will be more arrests,” he said.
“There are no sacred cows,” Chakwera said. “If the finger of evidence points to you… you are going to prison.”
Kandodo told Reuters he was shocked by the decision but declined to comment further until Monday.
Chakwera promised to curb corruption when he took office in June last year, bringing his Malawi Congress Party out of opposition for the first time in 26 years.
He said there would be more arrests related to the audit, that civil servants would be made to repay stolen funds and that he would commission further audits into coronavirus-related spending and the use of funds in other areas like infrastructure.
Malawi’s police said a total of 14 people had been arrested so far, including an immigration official and 10 individuals working at district councils.
More arrests were imminent, the statement continued, adding the suspects would be charged with crimes including theft by a public servant.
Its under-resourced public hospitals were overwhelmed at the peak of the pandemic.