To the naïve and the uninitiated, the recent sending on forced leave of Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) Chief Executive Officer, Ralph Kamoto and the Director of Finance, Elias Hausi, and Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) Chief Elections Officer, Willie Kalonga, and six other members of staff could easily be applauded as an act of integrity and good governance by the powers that be.It is not.
The truth is actually quite frightening. Looking further and deeper into the alleged grounds for these unwanted departures, a completely different picture emerges.
Officially, the MERA duo have been suspended over unauthorized spending of MK2.964 billion from the Price Stabilization Fund (PSF) for the purchase of 10,000 metric tons of maize for ADMARC.
The MEC lot, a whole volleyball team plus one substitute, have gone on a long-overdue forced leave to pave way for an equally long-overdue independent audit on genuine queries raised by the Ministry of Finance’s own Central Internal Audit Unit last year; which have been cause for a tug of war I will talk about later when the dust has settled.
But there is to all this more than meets the eye.
Lest we forget, Raphael Kamoto, according to Lucas Kondowe – the beleaguered Director General of the toothless Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) – was on course to ‘burning his fingers’ over the contract for the construction of MERA Office Complex in Lilongwe awarded to Terrastone Limited.The ACB Czar spared no effort trying to convince Malawians that Kamoto acted corruptly in awarding the contract to Terrastone.Kondowe even crossed the line, became a team of one, a self-appointed ‘Internal Procurement Committee (IPC)’ of MERA, and tried to strong-arm Kamoto to award the contract to Sogecoa.
Kamoto, to his credit, knows a bootlicker-cum-law-breaker-masquerading-as-an-anti-corruption-crusader when he sees one. And he saw one in Lucas Kamoto did not oblige. He schooled Lucas of MERA’s position. There was an internal due diligence process, which he couldn’t just overrule.
An independent professional, none other than the Attorney General (AG), weighed in and found fault with Lucas. And as if to prove the AG right, the courts rubbished Lucas’s restriction notice.
What, you may be asking, is the background to this whole fiasco?
I am made to believe that a former MERA IPC had initially scored Shire Limited as the best value for money bidder, scoring highest as both the lowest bidder and meeting all technical specifications.At this time, the Director of Finance, Elias Hausi(now sent on forced-leave with Kamoto) was acting CEO.Despite obtaining a letter of “No Objection” from ODPP, the acting CEO, for reasons that are unclear, did not execute the contract with Shire and the validity period expired.
We must ask the following questions: Why did the Acting CEO, under the watch of a full board, desist from awarding the contract? Could it be that Shire Limited was not in good books with the powers that be?
Anyway, a new Board was then constituted under the leadership of the much-respected Bishop Bvumbwe and a new CEO in Ralph Kamoto.As happens when a new CEO takes over, Kamoto, among other things, dissolved the IPC and instituted a new one.New brooms sweep clean and the new IPC did not disappoint. It worked and recommended the award of the contract to Terrastone, which the new CEO endorsed to give rise to his troubles.
Now, maize bought for starving Malawians suddenly became a big issue and Goodall Gondwe started puffing, ranting and crying blue murder!
The question we must pursue is: If Kamoto had bowed to Lucas’ bullying, would he have been sent off on leave like the long-overdue MEC dudes over who, the same Goodall Gondwe dilly-dallied until the British were pissed off and a whole Chair of MEC had to collapse in a meeting with the Auditor General?
By the way, it has come to my attention that in the round that Shire Limited turned out to be the best value for money, Lucas’s preferred contractor, Sogecoa was the highest bidder.
In this second and contentious tender, Sogecoa inexplicably reduced their price to a suspiciously low quote, giving rise to fear that once they got the contract the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) style of cash-gate would prevail. It is usually done via collusion and under served claims and price adjustments as the contract is being fulfilled.
Let me rephrase this: what changed in economic fundamentals to warrant the huge reduction in the Sogecoa quote?
Now to my own views: Throughout all this drama, I see an unseen hand. First, the then acting CEO must have been under duress, and hence his not awarding the contract to Shire Limited.
Secondly, the unseen hand underestimated Kamoto. The thinking was: bullied and booted out unceremoniously from Malawi Revenue Authority, he will be so malleable as to bend over backwards to Lucas’ intimidation.
Thirdly, Thomas Moore was dead right when he noted, “When public judicatories are swayed by avarice or partiality, justice, the grand sinew of society, is lost.”
No one, in my view, explains both the MERA and MEC cases, why they are different, and why in one case – i.e. at MEC, they had this coming and while at MERA, all that GoodallGondwe has achieved is a travesty of justice.
So, MEC management does all sort of illegal things. They embezzle funds, recruit fifty-one relatives and concubines without interviews, and deliberately flout basic accounting procedures to make everything so murky that the auditors should fail to see the fraud. It takes a year for Goodall to act, and that only because of fear of donors.
MERA buys maize, not for Tanzanians, not for Zambians, and definitely not for Martians, but for Malawians when ADMARC is failing to provide the grain (and the situation actually improves), but the moment its CEO blocks a powerful corrupt syndicate from graft, the axe falls and buying maize to feed starving Malawians becomes a crime.
What is President Arthur Peter Mutharika telling CEOs out there? Is it not: “IF you want to keep your job, help us loot and if you dare block us, off you go!”
For heaven’s sake, when are we sending him packing?