Finance Minister Ken Lipenga and Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) boss Lloyd Muhara should either resign immediately or be sacked from their positions for allegedly doctoring national revenue figures presented to Parliament.
The call for their resignations follows revelations that the previous administration ordered the revenue collecting body to borrow money from commercial banks to finance the zero deficit budget.
Commentators say it is not only a huge mistake for cabinet ministers and revenue authority officials to be peddling lies to both Parliament and the nation, but such conduct is also unethical and illegal.
Chancellor College political analyst Mustapha Hussein said the minister should relinquish his position because he has betrayed public trust by giving out wrong information knowingly or at least issue an apology.
“The best way for the minister is to resign for misinforming the public, but knowing that the tradition in Malawi is that when ministers make mistakes they do not readily resign, such ministers should be sacked.
“We hope other ministers will learn from that. Transparency and accountability are very important in public offices. Inappropriate information affects the integrity of the minister,” said Hussein.
Another political analyst Henry Chingaipe said it is a gross misconduct by both Lipenga and Muhara to deceive the nation about government clandestine borrowing.
He said their action warrants punitive measures that include being fired or voluntarily resigning from their positions.
“This is deceit of the highest order and shows disregard of the public by office bearers. This can only happen in Malawi; elsewhere they would immediately resign because this is unethical.
“The best course of action is that they have admitted for their mistake. But how can a minister stand in parliament and cheat the whole nation? How can the boss of the MRA give wrong information to the public?” he quizzed.
He added: “I am sure there are certain procedures that can be followed in parliament regarding disciplining such actions. I am not sure whether, about the MRA boss acted within his powers or not. But normally these people should not continue holding offices,” Chingaipe said.
He further said the move was detrimental to tax payers as they were unknowingly forced to pay high interest rates to the bank on behalf of the government as it serviced the loan.
A law lecturer at Chancellor College Sunduzwayo Madise said it was a violation of the law for the MRA to borrow money from banks to cook up their books and present a rosy picture of the Zero Deficit Budget because the body does not have mandate to borrow without the sanction of Parliament.
“Someone has acted ultra vires [beyond powers]! The borrowing was illegal! And where fiscal matters are concerned, we must not allow such illegality to ‘gather moss.’ Let us be clear. For MRA to borrow money to finance the Appropriation Act (budget), Parliament had to pass a Loan Authorisation Bill and the President had to assent to such bill,” Madise observed.
He added: “No such bill was passed. So there was no sanction or authority from Parliament. This was illegal through and through.”
He proposed that anyone involved in the malpractice should either resign or be fired.
“In my view, the folks involved at MRA must resign or if they do not, they must be dismissed. Section 59(1)(a) of the Employment Act could never have been more clear in stating that ” [a]n employer is entitled to dismiss summarily an employee …where an employee is guilty of serious misconduct inconsistent with the fulfilment of the expressed or implied conditions of his contract of employment such that it would be unreasonable to require the employer to continue the employment relationship.”
According to Madise, lying to Parliament is a cardinal sin and it must not be condoned.
On his part the legislator who blew the whistle in Parliament about the issue, George Nnesa has since demanded an apology from Lipenga and other Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) MPs for labelling him a liar after he asked for a thorough investigation on the issue.
“I will now go back to Parliament and report to the Speaker that I was right all along and I will expect the Minister to come out clean and tell the nation the truth himself. I also demand an apology and withdrawal of the statements he made against me,” he said.
Nnensa also called for the resignation of Lipenga and Muhara for the part they played in the alleged illegal borrowing.
The parliamentarian has since taken up the matter with Malawi Law Society (MLS) which is working on subpoenas to compel MRA and Ministry of Finance to disclose documents in court.
MLS president John-Gift Mwakhwawa said they would come up with a fresh position on the matter soon.
Lipenga did not pick his phone when contacted to comment on Nnensa’s demand for an apology and calls for his resignation.
MRA Public Relations Officer Steve Kapoloma said he could not comment on the issue after the minister had already spoken.
Commentators call for the resignation of the two officials after Lipenga admitted at the Common Approach to Budgetary Support (Cabs) meeting on Tuesday that MRA borrowed from commercial banks when the zero deficit budget became too difficult to sustain.
During the administration of President Bingu wa Mutharika both Lipenga and Muhara denied that MRA borrowed money from commercial banks to finance the zero deficit budget.
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