Two top positions at National Oil Company of Malawi’s (Nocma) m a in governance structures—board and executive—have fallen under the Ombudsman’s investigative net.
Ombudsman Grace Malera confirmed on Tuesday that she has written Nocma seeking responses on alleged irregularities in the position of the parastatal’s board chairperson and the recruitment of deputy chief executive officer HellenBuluma who now runs the State-oil firm in an acting capacity.
Malera’s effort to bring accountability to Nocma on the two positions is a follow up to a letter by her predecessor Martha Chizuma, now at the Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB) as director general.
In the April 20 2021 letter to Nocma for Buluma’s attention titled ‘Investigation into allegations of conflict of interest, unfair and unreasonable discharge of functions and other acts of maladministration by the board and irregular recruitment of Ms Hellen Buluma as deputy chief executive officer of [Nocma]’, Chizuma gave the institution up to April 30 2021 to respond to the allegations.
Nocma did not respond, according to the office of the Ombudsman; hence, the fresh drive.
In the letter, Chizuma said they had received a complaint on alleged conflict of interest arising from the Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC)—currently held by Zanga- ZangaChikhosi—being Nocma’s board chairperson.
The complaint claims the SPC’s Nocma board chairmanship is not voted for, but is imposed by government, leaving decisions of Nocma to be primarily influenced by the decisions of government through the SPC; hence, conflict of interest.
In the opinion of the complainant, the SPC’s presence makes it difficult for the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority to effectively regulate Nocma due to the SPC’s presence in the oil firm’s board.
On Buluma, the letter cited two complaints against the deputy CEO that the current Ombudsman confirmed her office has re-launched investigations into.
The first complaint alleges that Buluma’s recruitment as Nocma deputy chief executive officer was irregular because the position does not exist in the company’s organogram, which means there was no vacancy.
It also alleges that no interviews were conducted for the post, further claiming that Buluma was handpicked for the job by the previous Peter Mutharika administration.
The second complaint accuses Buluma of abusing her power in suspending four Nocma employees for allegedly leading other workers to sign a letter that was to be submitted to the board against Buluma’s leadership style.
Another complaint came from Fuel Tankers Operators Association who found Nocma’s decision as irregular to use Delivery Duty Unpaid (DDU) method of importing fuel, claiming this method is not part of regulations.
In its fresh letter dated November 9 2021 the Ombudsman has given Nocma December 1 [yesterday] as deadline for the responses.
Malera said the fresh probe is based on complaints sent to the office of the Ombudsman early this year, but had not been fully attended to due to “technicalities.”
“The Office of the Ombudsman is pursuing these issues concurrently while at the same time treating them as distinct issues and, therefore, being handled through different, but concurrent investigative processes”.
“A follow up letter has since been written to Nocma deputy CEO to demand responses on allegations outlined in the first letter, except for one allegation, which ACB is also looking into and we discussed and agreed with ACB that their criminal investigations into the matter should take precedence,” she said. The allegation left to ACB, according to the Ombudsman, concerns the DDU matter, according to Malera’s November 9 reminder letter to Nocma.
We are yet to receive a response from Buluma on how Nocma would handle its response this time.
For Buluma, the re-opening of the probes come on top of another revealed by Weekend Nation on Saturday, in which the Ombudsman is investigating her on allegations that she abused her office in hiring extra security detail contrary to her entitlement. She has up to today to respond to this particular issue.
Meanwhile, two governance
experts worry the Nocma probe brings to the fore integrity issues at the institution.
Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (CSAT) executive director Willy Kambwandira said yesterday that having both the board chairperson and the deputy CEO,
are unofficially aware of the government’s proposed changes. We are waiting for that and having it gazetted before it can go into application,” he said.
Meanwhile, RFA said it has rolled out a Local User Discount for all vehicles within the radius of the newly-opened Chingeni Toll Plaza on the M1.
RFA will be charging K300 per pass for light vehicles instead of the set K1 700 for other users.
Reacting to the development, a local commuter vehicle driver in Balaka, Ernest Chiphaka, applauded the reductions as it will be cheaper than the unchartered routes they were using to avoid the paying official fees at the plaza.
He said: “With the bypass road, we would pay K100 at about five or six stops so we very much welcome the development. Even though we used the bypass path, our vehicles were also heavily affected.
“So I will definitely register and hope for a smooth roll out as I look forward to yielding great profits on market days, Friday.”
To avoid paying the toll fees, some motorists were diverting from the M1 at Manjawira Trading Centre in Ntcheu passing through Mtonda to Nsipe or Kampepuza to rejoin the M1. n
who is essentially acting CEO, under investigation erodes public confidence in the institution. Kambwandira said he is in full support of the investigation as it is crucial in promoting transparency and accountability in the public sector.
On his part, Mustafa Hussein, a lecturer in public administration at University of Malawi also worries that the probe “raises integrity questions”
“The Ombudsman would not take interest and investigate the issues if they were flimsy. Public institutions are expected to follow laid down procedures, due process and regulations, including in matters of recruitment and disciplinary practices,” he said.
Hussein said integrity and corporate governance places premium on accountability and necessary managerial control placed in the hands of “appropriately (meritoriously) appointed executives/ directors following laid-down human resource processes”.
“In this scenario SPC performing as board chair compromises accountability lines and puts too much control and influence in the hands of the SPC (susceptible to abuse of resources, corruption and dominance in the decision making-process). Good corporate governance emphasises rule of law, merit, accountability and minimal interference in management of public enterprises like Nocma,” said the academic