Why are the board of directors of the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) still keeping their jobs?
I am talking about those—and they are in majority—that were part of the decision to use K2.9 billion from the body’s Price Stabilisation Fund (PSF) to buy 10 000 metric tonnes of maize for the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) to sell in its markets as a way of easing food shortages in the country? Why did the Mera Board fire chief executive officer (CEO) Ralph Kamoto and director of finance Elias Hausi over the matter?
I want the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development to answer me. I am looking for answers from the Department of Statutory Corporations, which is the policy holder when it comes to statutory corporations. I want an explanation from the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC). And damn right, I want the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining—the line Ministry—to respond. In short, I want government to help me understand why Capital Hill has allowed the cowardly Mera Board to run away from accepting responsibility and instead thrown two of Mera’s top managers—Kamoto and Hausi—under the bus?
Is the duo collateral damage in a grander game we have no clue about? If it is a grander game, what is the game? Did President Peter Mutharika know about it? What did he know and when did he know it? What about Finance Minister Goodall Goodall Gondwe? What did he know and when did he know it?
Here is what I know.
One day, the chairperson of the Mera Board at the time (he left the institution) sent emails to his fellow board members lobbying them to join him in a decision to use money from the PSF—which is used to cushion consumers from high fuel prices during hard times—to buy maize that can be accessed by the hungry through sales at Admarc outlets.
The round lobbying bore fruits and the board members agreed to the irregular usage of the money. The board then ordered the CEO to prepare a resolution to that effect and order the executive management to implement it.
This was supposed to be a hush-hush arrangement. After all, Admarc would refund the money and nobody would get hurt, right? Treasury was informed, but there is still no clarity of its initial position on the matter.
Then the ever nosy Weekend Nation got wind of the questionable transaction, investigated it and exposed the questionable transaction. Then Treasury—whose role in the whole saga remained opaque—was up in arms, describing the move as illegal and called for an investigation.
That investigation somehow led to Kamoto and Hausi appearing before a disciplinary committee of the board—the very board that mooted the idea, decided it was a good one and directed management, of which the sacked duo were the key leaders, to execute it.
In the final analysis, the board somehow found these two guilty of an offence that involved implementing what the board itself—the accusers in the disciplinary panel—said should be implemented.
And while Kamoto and Hausi may now be on the streets moving around with khaki envelops in search of jobs, the board, whose directive the two implemented, still have their jobs, ready to mess up Mera and government again.
How does that even begin to make sense to anyone? Is it any wonder that labour law experts now warn that in allowing the board to make such a ridiculous decision on the two, they have exposed government to law suits Capital Hill has no hope of winning?
In the end, it is the taxpayer, if the courts find the basis for firing the two wanting, who will have to bear the burden of paying the money in unfair dismissal compensations or something along those lines.
That is why I am asking all these responsible ministries and departments to give me answers on behalf of taxpayers on how they can seat back in their swivel chairs and watch the Mera Board mess all of us—from the decision to divert money they did not have the power to reroute, to the firing of people who were only doing their jobs as directed by the board.
My rudimentary understanding of corporate governance tells me that the board is an organisation’s governing body—that it bears the ultimate responsibility of the organisation.
Indeed, a board in parastatals—which is led by non-executive chairpersons—is the mentor and advisor to the CEO and top management, not vice versa as the Mera Board—which claims executive management misled it—would have us believe.
As far as I am concerned, it is the board that misled the Mera management, not the other way round.
And, therefore, it is the board that should have been fired, not the board sacking the two executives that were only implementing a board decision. n