Ombudsman snubs Parliament after being accused of corruption and nepotism
Ombudsman Tujilane Chizumila on Wednesday refused to appear before the Public Appointments Committee (PAC) of Parliament where she was to answer allegations of abuse of office levelled against her by her staff.
The allegations, which also include corruption and nepotism, are contained in a document addressed to Speaker Henry Chimunthu Banda, Attorney General Ralph Kasambara and PAC chairperson Nick Masebo.
In an interview on Wednesday, Masebo confirmed they were to meet Chizumila after receiving a complaint from her office.
“Yes, we received that on behalf of her employer, which is the National Assembly. The committee will also meet the complainants,” said Masebo.
But he refused to divulge details of the complaint. He only described the allegations as “investigative in nature.”
When called, Chizumila said: “I don’t know anything, and I have no idea. Maybe the best is to talk to Parliament.”
In a separate interview on Wednesday afternoon, executive secretary in the Office of the Ombudsman Ellos Lodzeni confirmed he was to accompany the Ombudsman, but they raised the issues with the National Assembly.
“The Ombudsman has written Parliament seeking clarification because we note that the matters raised were administrative and could have been addressed internally,” he said.
A member of PAC confirmed that neither Chizumila nor Lodzeni turned up for the hearing scheduled to start at 2pm. According to the programme, the hearing was scheduled to end at 4.30pm.
The complaint document alleges that the Ombudsman wants to effect a restructuring process which members of staff claim is not being done with due transparency.
“The Ombudsman is currently intending to effect restructuring of staff using the Department of Public Service Management. The process is not...being done in a transparent and accountable manner, but in bad faith,” reads the document in part.
But Lodzeni said the process is being done by the Department of Public Service Management following a functional review exercise over five years ago.
Among others, the review showed the Office of the Ombudsman is filled with under-qualified staff in strategic positions.
Lodzeni also confirmed this development in an interview.
“Members of staff should know that some of these issues are a preserve of management. After all, every member of staff was interviewed by Public Service Management,” said Lodzeni.
The Ombudsman staff also complain that the office has started deducting pension contributions without explaining to the concerned members.
“The office has not identified a private pension administrator. This means the money being collected from staff salaries cannot be treated as pension contribution since no pension scheme exists so far. This is why the money which has been collected from July, 2012 salaries has been deposited in a Welfare Account Code No. 09708 guised as ‘Special Recovery,’ according to the document.
But Lodzeni said: “We are only following the law.”
The Office of the Ombudsman was established by the Constitution, which guarantees its independence from interference and direction of any person or authority.
Section 121 reads: “In the exercise of his or her powers, functions and duties the Ombudsman shall be completely independent of the interference or direction of any other person or authority.”
Meanwhile, Parliament has reconstituted its four constitutional committees: Public Appointments and Declaration of Assets, Defence and Security, Budget and Finance and Legal Affairs.