On Saturday a joint parliamentary committee summoned officials from Escom and Egenco to a day-long meeting at Mponela, Dowa, to appreciate government’s plans to procure diesel generators before submitting a report to the current sitting of Parliament.
When Nation on Sunday arrived in the meeting room at Linde Motel, the mood appeared tense with some members openly displaying their displeasure at the performance of both Escom and Electricity Generation Company (Egenco).
Barely five minutes in attendance, the Nation on Sunday crew was told to leave the room, being advised that the meeting, held jointly by parliamentary committees responsible for Natural Resources, Government Quality Assurance, and Statutory Corporation, did not require media coverage.
Some of the issues raised by members during the time of our stay included a proposal to cancel procurement of diesel generators until government furnishes Parliament with information on how Escom initially messed up the project as well as assurance that Egenco would handle the issue appropriately, without abuse of resources.
Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources Welani Chilenga moderated the discussion, calling on members to be sober in handling the matter.
“Honourable members, those are valid concerns, but maybe we do not need to cancel the deal because government may have already spent a lot. So, cancellation would be costly. Escom messed up things, yes, but we can give Egenco the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
Chilenga refused to take any question, saying whatever they discussed would not be shared until when they submit a report to Parliament.
“We have agreed not to share the information. And if I do, I will be in breach of parliamentary procedures,” he said.
Chairperson of Parliamentary Committee on Government Quality Assurance Harry Mkandawire also declined to comment, citing the same reason.
But an inside source described the meeting as hot. He said most members are not convinced that generators would help to solve the problem in the interim.
“The worry is about transparency. Members need to know how much government is spending for these generators and how long will they serve the situation before we have a [lasting] solution to the problem. Some also want government to know the cost of operating these generators so that the cost is not transferred to consumers.
“Egenco officials cited usual challenges of low water levels versus generation capacity. But members pressed to understand the long-term solution because there seem to be no progress on some of the projects such as Kamwamba coal-fired plant in as much as the President talked about these projects during the opening of Parliament,” said the source.
In a rare fashion during the opening of Parliament on Friday, President Peter Mutharika admitted that Malawi was facing problems due to persistent blackouts.
He said the problem would be alleviated with the purchase of generators, with the first consignment for the Northern Region expected to arrive in the country by end of next month.
Since the advent of the never-experienced-before power outages, officials from Escom and Egenco have appeared before parliamentary committees to answer questions. But Chilenga defended the Mponela meeting as a special one.
“All the three committees, which separately met officials from the two companies, have come together to share notes and also hear from officials for the last time before compiling a joint report to be submitted to Parliament during this current meeting. We have agreed on a common ground,” he explained without wanting to divulge more information.