Former Malawi Energy Regulatory Board (Mera) board chairperson Leonard Chikadya reignited the debate on the roles of the Secretary to the President (SPC) Zanga-zanga Chikhosi in the boards of several parastatals.
In his resignation letter, Chikadya alleged that the role of the SPC on the boards of the National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) and the Electricity Generation Company (Egenco) has made the regulation of the energy sector difficult.
The former Mera board chair cited a scenario at Nocma where the State-run oil company continues to receive fuel supplies despite Mera not approving premium fuel contracts. No one in his right mind would argue that there is a probable breach there.
There is an obvious conflict of interest there, but the bigger problem is that Chikhosi’s dual role as the head of the civil service and Nocma board chair is distorting the hierarchy of authority between the oil company and its oversight authority, Mera.
On one hand, you have a situation where Nocma, the board included, is supposed to defer to the authority of Mera when it comes to the supply of fuel. On the other hand, you have the SPC, who despite being bound to the statutes of Mera, has the power which supersede the authority of the Mera board chair by virtue of being the head of the civil service.
It is a convoluted hierarchy of authority where the office of the board chair of Nocma is supposed to defer to the authority of the office of the Mera board chair, but the same person can impose his will on the former by invoking his powers as the head of the civil service. It is a recipe for chaos.
Now the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs has backed directorship roles of the SPC on the grounds that the framers of the Acts and the accompanying laws wanted the SPC to have a dual role to ensure government representation in the energy sector.
That may be true, but is undeniable that application of the law could be compromised in Malawi’s dysfunctional and politicised governance system. The system would work perfectly if all the players within it were working to promote national interests devoid of any personal influence.
However, regardless of what the framers of the Acts intended, personal interests and inclinations will influence a manager’s decision at some point in their professional career. That seems to have been the case here.
Chikadya and some sections of the public believe that the SPC asked Parliament to dismiss him and other Mera board members because of the divergent interests between the two gentlemen in their roles at the boards of Mera and Nocma.
Some sections of the public believe there were legitimate reasons to dismiss Mera’s board. They cite the board’s handling of the recruitment Mera chief executive officer Henry Kachaje, who at the time of shortlisting, did not have the minimum qualifications to assume the role.
It would be folly to back one side over another based on the facts here because it creates a false dichotomy that one errant act is more morally acceptable than the other. It diverts the attention the politicisation of Malawi’s public service.
In fact, some people viewed Kachaje’s appointment as a manifestation of a more pertinent systematic flaw in the public sector—using public service positions to reward party loyalists or people sympathetic to the governing party.
One only has to look at the fact that the appointment led to a legal battle that pitted two government officers—the Offices of the Ombudsman and Mera—against each in a court of law over a seemingly simple issue of determining the minimum requirements for a position in the public service.
The jury is still out on whether the actions of the Mera board constituted “gross misconduct”. That is for the Parliamentary Affairs Committee to decide if they proceed with the hearing despite the decision of the board members to step down from their positions.
The SPC’s motives for recommending the dismissal of the board are not as relevant in this scenario. Determining whether the Mera board did not act in a way that befitted their offices is.
Likewise, the role of the SPC should be examined taking due consideration of the fact that Malawi’s public service has shown a remarkable propensity to abuse by political elites in the governing party of the day. What we are witnessing today might just be a dysfunctional system finally collapsing on itself.