BLANTYRE - Pressure is mounting on British forensic auditors to release the names of suspects in what is known as Malawi's Cashgate scandal. Malawians have trashed the report of the audit team, which omitted names of individuals and companies said to be involved in the massive corruption scandal.
The government of Malawi hired a British company, Baker Tilly International, to audit its departments between April and September 2013.
The company's report found the government lost about $30 million during that period through fraud, theft and unethical actions.
The report says nearly half of the money went to 16 private companies for services they did not provide.
It says this was done by taking advantage of a loophole in the government's financial management system. That "hole" has now been sealed.
However, auditors say they could not release the names of people and companies allegedly involved in the scandal to avoid jeopardizing the ongoing investigations.
Members of parliament's Public Accounts Committee, or PAC, say the absence of suspects' names renders the report a useless document, and infringes upon the rights of taxpayers to know who embezzled the money.
“We want to believe that this report really belongs to the people of Malawi so that we should have a say on how we can use this report," said PAC's chairperson, Beatrice Mwangonde. "We are looking forward to meet these auditors so that they tell us why they are withholding the information.”
Finance Minister Maxwell Mkwezalamba said the government has been strongly advised not to release the names of the suspects “for ethical reasons.”
British High Commissioner to Malawi Michael Nelvin, whose country funded the audit, told a local radio station that releasing the names at this time would be counterproductive.
“We all want to know the full extent of the scandal and we want to bring into account all those involved. So in our view if we release the names we will endanger that goal. So the desire by the members of the public to have the names released now may be counterproductive to that and you might also jeopardize the judicial process,” he said.
Malawi President Joyce Banda told reporters Tuesday that she also wants to learn the names, but understands why investigators are keeping that information private.
“In fact, we are all eager to know the names," she said. "But I was told that if we release the names now, the suspects would fly and some would decide to tamper with evidence. Another issue, is that ethically, auditors are not allowed to carelessly release names of the suspect to avoid being sued once their findings prove to the contrary.”
The president said she has asked the British auditors to come back to Malawi and defend their position before PAC members. The audit team is expected to meet with PAC in the capital Lilongwe on March 10.
Malawi police uncovered the scandal in September last year, resulting in the arrest of over 60 people including civil servants, business people and politicians.
An investigation found that as much as $250 million could not be accounted for. In response, donor countries held up about $150 million in budgetary aid, putting a strain on the country's economy.
Donors are expected to meet later this month on whether to resume funding.