Massive procurement fiasco is bedeviling the Malawi Electorate Commission (MEC) which prompted UNDP to suspend further disbursement of funds to the electoral body under the US$28 million "Support to Electoral Reform and Elections in Malawi Programme", Nyasa Times has gathered.
Under the agreement which was signed in May 2008 between the Government of Malawi, MEC and UNDP focusing on strengthening management and technical capacity of MEC to conduct credible elections on 19th May 2009, the $28 million through the MEC Trust Fund comprises $14 million from donors (DfID-UK, EU, GTZ-Germany, Irish Aid, Norway, USAID) $1 million from UNDP and $13 million from Government of Malawi.
UNDP conducted as assessment of MEC's capacity in the areas of financial accountability and with a view to determining both the cash transfer modality and the scope of support needed if MEC was to be able to meet both its immediate and longer term responsibilities.
MEC was rated as "significant risk" in terms of its previous record in misappropriating donor funds. As a result, it was agreed that UNDP would use the direct payment modality - i.e. that MEC's contractors and suppliers are paid directly by UNDP.
The procurement saga in question relates to the procurement of election materials in particular the purchase of voter registration equipment like cameras, transformers and other gadgets which are now breaking down and threatening to impact negatively on the preparation for the 2009 general elections.
Nyasa Times understands that the tender of $75,000 was fraudulently awarded to an Australian company through the influence of Frank Vassallo, the Chief Elections Consultant at MEC, who is himself an Australian.
“There is strong evidence linking Vassallo to this bogus company which was specifically formed in readiness for this tender. In fact one of the companies that bid for the tender lodged a formal complaint regarding the fact that the Australian company lacked a track record in the supply of registration equipment but this was ignored by the Commissioners through the advice of Vassallo who is himself an interested party,” said a source in the Commission.
“Indeed from day one the equipment has been constantly breaking down because they are not robust enough to withstand the continuous use in harsh conditions,” the source pointed out.
However, Nyasa Times check at registration centers indicated that Camera Operators are technically qualified individuals.
The Commissioner also took a dig Vassallo saying he is not qualified to hold the position of Chief Elections Consultant and made available his CV to Nyasa Times where it indicated has a secondary school certificate.
Vassallo previously worked as a mere clerk for the Australian Elections Commission where he rose to the position of senior clerk. He was dismissed from the Electoral Commission of Zambia last year where he was working prior to joining MEC because of non .
“In readiness for the procurement scam Frank Vassallo engineered to have the Stores section transferred under him and also recommended the dismissal of Edward Jeke MEC's Procurement Manager to be replaced by Philip Mwangobole the Procurement Consultant who in reality is just a novice in procurement matters but is Vassalo's right hand man to facilitate fraudulent procurement practices,” informed the sources in MEC.
MEC's committee on Finance and Administration headed by Ronald Nkomba vetoed the decision to have Mwangobole appointed as MEC's Procurement Manager because he lacks qualification and experience while Jeke has a Masters degree in Economics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Purchasing & Supplies (UK) with over 20 years experience.
“Vassallo has also influence the transfer of the Warehouse Section from Procurement, which is now being run by Max Campos the Election Logistics Consultant who is bogus and without the required qualifications and experience.”
Campos operates from Lilongwe under Vassallo's instructions instead of Blantyre where the MEC headquarters is located and where all other consultants are operating.
“The truth of the matter is that the logistics of the registration exercise has been ably handled by the hardworking Harris Potani the recently promoted Deputy Chief Elections Officer and Henzily Munkhondya, the Southern Region Elections Officer,” pointed out the Commissioner.
He accused Vassallo for trying to “scuttle” the Finance Department by recommending the removal of Anderson Msonthi the Head of Finance to be replaced by McCarthy Phiri the Financial Consultant.
“It is no secret that both Jeke and Msonthi are on Vassalo's hate list because they have put a stop to his underhand and deceitful tactics,” noted the source.
“Vassallo is greatly feared and abhorred by all the MEC staff except a few bootlickers like Tenyson Singini and Kingsley Rudi whom he has promoted and positioned in critical areas within the Electoral Services department with express instructions to spy for him.”
MEC spokesperson Fergus Lipega could not immediately comment.