By Patseni Mauka
Those who have been following the National Oil Company of Malawi (NOCMA) fuel supply contract saga and are in the habit of using the essential matter called rain, will attest to the fact that the arrests of Minister of Energy Newton Kambala, Presidential Advisor Chris Chaima Banda and AFORD President Enoch Chihana are just a minute part of the story of high-level corruption that extends all the way to the office of president and cabinet.
It is important to note that the three have been arrested after the Anti-Corruption Bureau’s (ACB) ‘completion’ of investigations into the saga. The investigations were launched after two complaints were lodged with ACB in a long grueling battle between Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) and NOCMA on fuel supply contracts that NOCMA awarded to some companies.
The MERA board rejected NOCMA’s application for approval of prices for the suppliers that NOCMA selected citing concerns over overpricing. MERA suggested that NOCMA should select other suppliers (without naming any) or the same but at lower prices as submitted by the majority of the bidders. The reported difference in cost was a whooping 50 million united states dollars! Still,cNOCMA through its Deputy CEO, Hellen Buluma fought vehemently in support of its decision to award fuel supply contracts to its selected companies.
We must take note that yesterday’s arrests are from the complaint that Buluma lodged with ACB at the height of the battle for award of the contracts. Although she might have had legitimate reasons for lodging the complaint, this was a way of making sure that the contracts are given to NOCMA’s selected expensive suppliers.
There’s a reason Buluma fought so hard to keep the selected suppliers. She is an interested party, personally and not as Deputy CEO. As we will see below, it’s a matter of life and death for her because her job is on the line, let alone how fat her pockets will be when the deals are sealed.
Since one of Buluma’s motivations is to keep her job, we must look at the people who have the ultimate power to fire her. Those people are the beneficiaries of her actions that have led to the arrest of Chaima Banda, Chihana and Kambala.
Going back to November 5th,2020, President Lazarus Chakwera, in one of his trademark eloquent speeches, instructed NOCMA’s board to look into the appointment of Helen Buluma, a previously known Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) diehard, as acting CEO of NOCMA under the Tonse government. This was after a public outcry on a known DPP member being appointed leader of a parastatal under an alliance that fought hard against the former ruling party.
Chakwera gave the board two weeks to look into the matter. The board ‘looked into the matter’ and decided to remove Buluma as Acting CEO. She reverted back to her position of Deputy CEO. However, this was just a smokescreen as Buluma is effectively the CEO of NOCMA. Former NOCMA CEO, Gift Dulla was suspended nine months ago. Since then, the position has remained vacant.
The board that made this decision is chaired by the Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Mr Zangazanga Chikhosi. He is the one responsible for keeping Buluma’s job and one of the beneficiaries of her actions. By extension the ultimate beneficiary of her actions is President Chakwera.
The other beneficiary is Malawi Congress Party (MCP) which is the biggest hungry nthata that needs feeding. This is where MCP Secretary General Eisenhower Mkaka comes in. For the purpose of making this point clear, let’s ignore the fact that Mkaka is allegedly romantically involved with Buluma, and it is in his best interest to keep her concubine employed.
As Secretary General, Mkaka needs MCP to have money. Lots of it. That’s the only way he can pursue his goal of breaking the Tonse Alliance agreement and make sure the next presidential candidate is MCP again! What’s the other way to achieve this than to benefit from the reported 50 million dollars that Chakwera and MCP are going to benefit from the fuel supply contracts Buluma has religiously defended?
Of course, Mkaka also doesn’t want any competition for his appetizing seat of Secretary General, so the arrest of the ambitious Chris Chaima Banda, who is eyeing his post, is welcome news.
Let’s leave Chakwera’s Chief of Staff out the equation for now. We simply don’t have enough space to explain his role in the saga. We will pray for more space next time.
Any right-thinking Malawian knows that the arrests are not necessarily Chakwera’s no nonsense application of the rule of law. They are just part of protecting Chakwera’s possible loot. They are also part of the wider political battles in the Tonse Alliance that are getting uglier by each passing day.
However, if in the course of these political battles, laws of this country are broken, I will be looking forward to the day the courts will convict anyone involved. For now, I’m waiting for the arrest of Mkaka, Chikhosi and Chakwera who are the major players in the NOCMA fuel supply saga. That will be the actual rule of law.