President Lazarus Chakwera has dismissed Minister of Energy Newton Kambala. This comes hours after the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) formally informed the President about their findings in the fuel import contracts award investigation that led to the arrest of Kambala and two others.
In a related development, the President also fired his chief adviser on strategy and manifesto implementation Chris Chaima Banda who was arrested alongside Kambala on Monday.
But in a statement issued last evening, Secretary to the President and Cabinet Zanga-Zanga Chikhosi fell short of stating reasons for Kambala’s removal from Cabinet, only citing that the President exercised “powers conferred upon him by Section 95(2) of the Constitution”.
The statement said following the change, all powers, functions and responsibilities of the Ministry of Energy would be exercised by the President and that matters relating to the ministry be directed to the Office of the President and Cabinet.
Kambala and Chaima Banda were arrested with Alliance for Democracy president Enoch Chihana for allegedly attempting to offer bribes to officials at National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) purportedly to influence the awarding of 2021/22 contracts for fuel supply.
Kambala is the second minister to be dismissed from Chakwera’s maiden Cabinet hired in July 2020 after Ken Kandodo was removed as Minister of Labour on April 18 2021 for alleged abuse of Covid-19 response funds. However, in the case of Kandodo, the President later apologised at a public function in Kandodo’s Kasungu Central Constituency, saying he was misled.
The dismissal of Kambala means there are now four vacant ministerial posts. Two of the vacancies followed the Covid-19 related deaths of Mohammad Sidik Mia (Transport and Public Works) and Lingson Belekanyama (Local Government) in January this year.
Earlier yesterday, ACB director general Martha Chizuma and State House director of communication Sean Kampondeni confirmed that the bureau had formally written the President on the developments surrounding the arrests of Kambala and Chaima Banda.
Since the arrests, the President came under pressure from civil society groups to fire Kambala and Chaima Banda. However, some analysts suggested that Chakwera might have delayed to axe the minister and his aide to wait for their formal charging.
The President last week fired his adviser on special duties Pastor Martin Thom even before he was arrested for being connected with the allegedly smuggling into Parliament a Bill to authorise government to borrow K93 billion from an Indian bank.
After two nights in police custody, Kambala, Chaima Banda and Chihana appeared before the Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court yesterday where they were formally charged under the Corrupt Practices Act (CPA).
Before they were granted the bail, the court read out three counts against Kambala as first accused, two against Chihana as second accused and two against Chaima Banda as third accused.
The trio entered a plea of not guilty.
Kambala, 59, faces three counts of conspiracy to influence a public officer to abuse their office contrary to Section 25B(2) of the CPA, misuse of public office contrary to Section 25(B)1 of the CPA and an alternative count of attempting to influence a public officer.
Chihana, 56, faces two counts of conspiracy to influence abuse of office and attempting to influence a public officer while Chaima-Banda, 57, has two counts of conspiracy to influence a public officer to abuse office and attempting to influence a public officer.
The bail is bonded at K200 000 cash each. Other conditions include two traceable sureties and surrendering to court all travel documents.
After the court adjourned, Kambala refused to comment on whether he would voluntarily resign from office while Chaima-Banda said he would wait for Chakwera to decide his fate.
Chaima-Banda said: “I will not. It’s the people who are calling upon the President to fire me so I will wait for him to make a decision.”
In a statement announcing the arrests on Monday, the ACB said Kambala allegedly attempted to influence State-owned Nocma to award contracts of 2020/21 fuel supply for the advantage of Orxy, Finergy and Trifugira Fuel companies.
On the other hand, Chihana and Chaima Banda allegedly aided and abetted Kambala when he attempted to influence the award of the contract to supply 40 000 metric tons of fuel to a company known as Finergy.
Nocma imports 50 percent of fuel into the country with the other half hauled by Petroleum Importers Limited, a consortium of private oil marketing companies.