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03.08.2006 Malawi

Jail for Malawi school fraudsters

By bbc
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A former Malawian education official has been jailed for two years over the biggest corruption scandal under the former government of Bakili Muluzi.

Two building contractors who profited from the scandal and a government quantity surveyor were also jailed.

The 187m kwacha ($2m) scandal broke in 1999, before Mr Muluzi was elected to a second and final five-year term.

Several politicians of the then ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) were awarded school building contracts.

Judge Richard Chinangwa convicted and sentenced former Secretary for Education Sam Safuli to two years imprisonment with hard labour for facilitating payment of 100, 000 Malawi kwacha ($750) to contractors Hendrick and Esther Kathumba for an uncompleted school block.

Hendrick Kathumba was sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour, and Esther Kathumba to four years' prison for defrauding government.

Snowden Jiya, a Quantity Surveyor in the Ministry of Education, who issued fake certificates of completion to facilitate payment for the uncompleted job, was sentenced to three years imprisonment with hard labour.

Tears

"Your action deprived hundreds of under-privileged Malawian youths of a decent learning environment," Judge Chinanangwa said as he passed the sentences in packed room at the High Court in Lilongwe.

Family members of the accused broke down in tears as the judge passed sentence.

They continued wailing outside the court as the four were driven away in handcuffs to start serving their sentences. Mr Safuli, as Secretary for Education, becomes the first senior government official to be sentenced in the long-running corruption scandal.

He smiled as he bid farewell to his newly-wedded young wife. Most of them did not have registered building construction companies but officials at the Ministry of Education paid them start-up capital to register companies and do the work. The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee unearthed the scandal years later when it was discovered that millions of kwacha had been paid for school building work that was either uncompleted or not done at all. Several senior government officials, including the current Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha - who was Minister of Education at the time of the affair - were arrested over the scandal.

Mr Chilumpha got off on a technicality but several senior government officials, politicians and contractors are still answering fraud and corruption charges over the scandal.

Most children in government primary schools in Malawi learn under trees for lack of classroom space.

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