Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama) has cautioned the government on increasing allowances for civil servants before correcting abuses in the provision.
Government recently increased salaries of civil servants following a strike the servants staged and Ecama has warned against extending the increment to allowances as the servants demanded.
Random interviews with civil servants in government ministries and departments show that workers abuse the allowance facility by pocketing the money without actually doing the purported assignments.
Some departmental staff share a fixed amount of allowances every month whether they travel or not.
There are also cases where the civil servants apply for allowances for more days than the actual time they will be away from their duty station.
Ecama Executive Director Nelson Mkandawire has cautioned that before it increases the allowances, government has to investigate the unscrupulous practices going on.
“Before the increase, they should check the system so that they take stock of what is actually happening in order to manage the loopholes.
“If they [government] will go ahead to affect the increase when nothing has been done, the challenge will be even bigger as government will continue losing money by paying people who do not deserve the money,” he said.
Government has, however, said it has put up a mechanism that will check loss of millions of kwacha through the provision of allowances.
Minis try of Finance spokesperson Nations Msowoya said the government recently put in place the Central Internal Audit Units, which are also called committees, in all ministries and departments to help controlling officers check any abuse of resources.
“We are optimistic that this approach is going to address this particular weakness,” said Msowoya.
He said once the budget is approved by Parliament, the responsibility of managing public resources in ministries and departments is delegated to controlling officers who discharge this function on behalf of the Secretary to the Treasury.
“Controlling officers are personally responsible to ensure that officers indeed go to the field once they sign for allowances,” Msowoya said.
President of the Civil Servants Trade Union (CSTU) Eliah Kamphinda said the malpractice could be influenced by meagre salaries that civil servants get.
“Whilst as a union we do not condone this, we think if this is really happening, we must deal with the root cause,” said Kamphinda.
He said although government has laid down procedures on the allowances to be paid when an officer wants to leave his or her duty station, the allowances in the civil service should be based on food and non-food essentials.
It is not clear whether and by how much government has increased the allowances.
But a January 30, 2013 joint position statement by CSTU and National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi (NONM) on the concerns of workers in the civil service demanded the revision of subsistence allowance by 100 percent and 25 percent for local and foreign travel respectively.