Helen Buluma has bloated security

National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) has bloated police security for its deputy chief executive officer (CEO) Helen Buluma, draining MK3.9 million monthly to pay for five police officers and their three guns.

Police have confirmed that Nocma—a State-owned company set up with taxpayers’ money—requested to hire their services that include four police officers with two guns to guard Buluma’s residence and a gun-totting close protection officer (CPO) to babysit her daily.

A CPO or personal bodyguard is reserved for senior officials such as judges, ministers and their deputies, Malawi Electoral Commission commissioners, Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of Opposition, according to police sources.

National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera, in an interview, said: “Nocma requested for the services of our officers just like how any person can come to our offices and request to hire officers for a wedding event or anything like that.”

According to a copy of Conditions of Service for Nocma employees, the State oil firm’s CEO and the deputy are entitled to a day security guard and two night security guards plus an alarm or rapid response system.

But a payment request for June 2021, that we have seen, show that the firm’s deputy boss’ security detail is way beyond her entitlement, gobbling nearly half—MK3.9 million—of the institution’s monthly police security expenses.

The police had, on June 18 2021, written Nocma to honour the payments.

According to an internal Nocma loose minute, dated June 21, 2021 for payment for police officers guarding Nocma strategic fuel reserves in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu as well as the parastatal’s head office and the deputy chief executive officer’s residence, the total for that month was MK7 882 000.

Of this amount, MK3.9 million is for Buluma’s personal security detail broken down as follows:

  • MK2.4 million for four police officers guarding her residence, with each officer getting MK20 000 per day for 30 days;
  • MK600 000 service charge for two guns calculated at K10 000 each for 30 days;
  • MK600 000 for her CPO for 30 days charged at MK20 000 a day;
  • MK300 000 as service charge for CPO’s gun at MK10 000 per day for 30 days.

Other Nocma police security payments for June included K800 000 as allowance for officers guarding Lilongwe depot; MK600 0000 for officers guarding Blantyre depot and the same amount for Mzuzu depot.

There was also MK1.7 million payments for police manning Nocma headquarters in Lilongwe, according to the loose minute.

In a payment voucher Ref.No. Nocma/NBM/2021/188, dated July 5 2021, Nocma processed the payment from its current account number 1000279761 to Police Mobile Headquarters Services Welfare Account 5460000003331 at Ecobank.

Our sources at Nocma and G4S Company corroborated that the private security company is still offering its services at Buluma’s residence—with one private guard during the day and two at night.

Weekend Nation investigations have, however, established that the Nocma board neither discussed nor approved the beefing up of her security.

Some board members we spoke to corroborated that the issue of the deputy CEO’s security had not been discussed at any point, adding that the board is not involved in operations of the company.

Nocma board chairperson Zanga-Zanga Chikhosi, who is also Secretary to the President and Cabinet, is yet to respond to our questionnaire sent a month ago on who authorised the expenditure for police security.

When asked whether the Department of Statutory Corporations was aware of the high profile security for Buluma, the department’s spokesperson Headwick Banda refused to respond and referred this paper back to Nocma.

In an interview on Thursday last week, Banda maintained that Nocma was better placed to explain what necessitated the beefing up of security for Buluma.

However, upon learning of our inquiry into the matter, Buluma reached out to us, claiming that her life is in danger being an Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) witness and whistle-blower in the fuel procurement saga.

She did not indicate where the alleged threats were coming from and whether she informed the ACB about the need for police security. There is also no record at any police station or unit that Buluma lodged a complaint that she was being threatened, according to Kadadzera on Tuesday.

The police spokesperson also indicated that Nocma was still hiring the five officers for its deputy CEO as of this week.

Sources at Nocma also corroborated of the status quo.

According to a police source, had Buluma lodged a complaint with police that she was being threatened, the police would have been offering the protection for free.

“Police service is for free for everyone, especially for people whose lives are in danger, but if a citizen wishes to hire our services for private services then one has to pay for it,” says officer

Our findings at ACB show that the graft-busting body is not part of the arrangement offering police protection to Buluma.

ACB director general Martha Chizuma wondered why Weekend Nationwas dragging the bureau into the matter that she described as sensitive. She nonetheless indicated that ACB is not paying for Buluma’s security.

The ACB boss, however, could not be drawn to comment on the specifics, such as whether Buluma formally complained to the bureau that she is being threatened or whether the bureau nodded to the need for police security for the witness.

“I could not get myself to respond to your questions because I don’t understand how ACB is being brought into this issue.  Who is paying for the services and why are you interested in this story?”, says Chizuma:

When we formally engaged Buluma a couple of weeks ago to justify the expenditure she did not respond to our questionnaire.

The Corrupt Practices Act (CPA) penalises any person who is found to be victimising or taking any action to punish a whistle-blower.

Section 51A (5) of CPA reads: “Any person who, having knowledge that any person referred to in the section as a whistle-blower or an informer, has informed the bureau or the police of an alleged or a suspected corrupt practice, or other offence connected therewith, takes, by himself or through another person, an action of any kind to punish or victimise such whistle-blower or informer in any way shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine and to imprisonment for two years.”

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