Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) Board chairperson Bishop Dr Joseph Bvumbwe last week announced in a press statement that Mera has asked the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) to pay back K2.9 billion the former spent to buy maize for Admarc to sell in its markets.
The announcement came after the print media revealed that Mera used money from the Price Stabilisation Fund (PSF) meant to cushion fuel price rises without permission and let alone knowledge of the relevant authority—Treasury. What was most surprising was that Parliament had already allowed Admarc to borrow $8 billion to purchase maize to feed the 6.5 million hungry Malawians following the poor maize harvest last year as a result of the El Nino weather phenomenon.
After Mera bought the maize, it took the media once more to reveal that Admarc only paid back (to Mera) K250 million from the proceeds of the sales, a development which raised more eyebrows about what Admarc and Mera were up to.
As if to douse the raging flames of anger among the people for this illegal transaction, Mera Board three weeks ago pinned the blame on two of its senior officials—summarily dismissing its chief executive officer Ralph Kamoto and terminating the contract for finance director Elias Hausi. This was despite the fact that it is the Mera Board which, in the first place, made the decision to divert the money to buy maize and only tasked management to implement it.
The decision to fire the two management officials for implementing a Mera board decision was itself an act of double standards on the part of the board. More so that the same board which initiated the deal, tasked management to implement it and then after it backfired the same board fired the CEO and finance director.
Meanwhile, the Mera Board members—the real culprits in the deal—have been left scot free. It has now also transpired that Mera Board has not even informed Treasury that it fired the two officers or that it has asked Admarc to pay back the money.
Given all these suspicious circumstances, which smack of a sinister agenda, I am afraid Mera board has to do more than just place a statement in the newspapers that it has asked Admarc to pay back the money. Mera Board will have to prove to Malawians that Admarc has indeed paid back the money.
It is one thing for Mera to ask Admarc to pay the money and quite another for Admarc to pay the money. This is against the background that Admarc cannot be trusted anymore following the suspicious manner in which its senior management struck deals to import maize from Zambia which have put it under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
The credibility of Mera is also questionable following the manner it has dealt with this issue. No one would have known that Mera used K2.9 billion to purchase maize for Admarc to sell in its markets if it were not for some whistleblower tipping the media. It is also very difficult to prove that Admarc really used this money to buy maize given the organisation’s tainted reputation after the Zambia maize saga. In fact, an audit report by the National Audit Office talks about Admarc’s unwillingness to make good of the money. The report quotes some Admarc officials as saying some of the maize Mera bought was rotten and that some of the money was for logistics. This is nonsense.
This is money from taxpayers who sweat blood to find it, especially with the economy tanking. It is therefore a betrayal of the highest order to motorists to pay more when buying fuel through the fuel levy only for someone to embezzle the money.
Since the K2.9 billion was from the PSF, Mera will have absolutely no reason to raise fuel prices before it gets this money back and uses it for its intended purpose. n