Gone like the wind; no traces and, apparently, no questions asked. That is the story of the State House in Zomba. Chairs, beds, other valuables and over K300 million (about $1.2 million) meant for the State residence’s rehabilitation have disappeared, leaving Malawi’s oldest presidential palace like a discarded egg shell.
Interestingly, no one in government, including top officials at the Ministry of Finance and the Directorate of State Residences seems to know where these public resources have gone to and, so far, there is no effort to recover them.
The Nation has established that despite funding of at least K300 million consolidated in the past four years to maintain, rehabilitate and renovate the State House, it is in a state of neglect, inhabitable and host to some of the most over-grown bushes in the city.
The Joyce Banda administration said last week there is no maintenance going on at the residence despite reports in budget documents claiming progress of various levels.
“The residence was looted; chairs, beds were taken out and clearly no renovations and maintenance was going on for some time,” disclosed presidential press secretary Steve Nhlane in an interview last week.
Where is the money for maintenance?
Over the years, Parliament has approved millions in budget allocation for the maintenance, rehabilitation and renovation of all six State residences, namely: New State House and Mtunthama State Lodge in Lilongwe, Sanjika Palace in Blantyre, Zomba State House, Chikoko Bay in Mangochi and the Mzuzu State Lodge.
This has been the tradition since time immemorial to keep the residences habitable for the first family.
This year alone, running all the six residences, including maintenance, will cost tax payers an estimated K2 billion (about $8 million), according to the 2012/13 national budget.
The Nation has now learnt that President Banda has said she will renovate the Zomba State House back to its original use as a presidential palace, reversing the decision of her predecessor, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, that it be turned into a state-of-the art hospital.
“Renovations and rehabilitation works at the residence have already started to make it habitable again,” said Nhlane about the palace lying at the foot of Zomba Mountain.
He could not, however, explain what happened to the hundreds of millions meant for maintaining the residence.
“We don’t know what happened,” was all he could say.
Over the past three weeks, those who served under Mutharika’s administration found it increasingly difficult to maintain the secrecy of what happened to the money for the residence and why, despite reporting progress, there is zero output on the allocation.
Edward Sawerengera, Mutharika’s last director general of State residences, claimed in an interview last week that since Mutharika decided to turn Zomba State House into a referral hospital during the 2010/11 financial year, it was not being budgeted for.
But despite Sawerengera’s claims, budget documents for the 2010/11 financial year show that Parliament approved K52 million (about $208 000) for renovations and maintenance of Zomba State residence. During that fiscal year, the targeted output of the works was reported to be 20 percent complete, which means that money was spent and achieved the said percentage result.
This was after K150 million (about $600 000) was spent on the residence the previous year with a target output for the works calculated at 25 percent. These outputs, according to the new administration, were all lies; hence, the questions about where all that money had gone.
Joseph Mwanamvekha, Secretary to Treasury (ST) then, for the last two weeks has not responded to The Nation calls and text messages on the issue.
Randson Mwadiwa, the new ST, said he needed to check the records and referred the newspaper to Dr. Dalitso Kabambe, the budget director, one of the remaining holdovers from the Mutharika regime.
Kabambe said he cannot know how the money was spent because he is not the controlling officer for State Residences.
Said Kabambe: “Once the National Assembly appropriates the budget, it is now in the hands of controlling officers, in this case, the director general of State Residences to implement their projects.
“This is the person you should be talking to because he is expected to report back to the National Assembly to explain how the budget was implemented.”
The Nation understands that Treasury has a fully-fledged budget monitoring unit tasked to follow up destinations of disbursed funds and match the inputs to outputs of projects and the budget performance in general.
We have also learnt that one of the main reasons the Zomba State House was neglected could have been because the former first couple rarely used it during the second term.
“The late first lady, Ethel, used to like the residence and she frequented it a lot, but this stopped when she died,” said an officer who worked for her.
“This could also be the reason Mutharika decided to turn it into a hospital because he had no use for it,” said the source.