On Wednesday, President Peter Mutharika went into Blantyre’s central business district to attend board meetings of the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) and Electricity Generation Company (Egenco)—the power distribution and producing State-owned companies, respectively.
While there, he listened to everything Malawians already know from Escom and Egenco—the so-called short and medium-term plans for ending power blackouts in the country, none of which have borne any fruits so far.
Electricity penetration remains at less than 10 percent of the population and even these people can only get a few hours of power per day.
Egenco’s output is roughly half of its capacity for reasons ranging from embarrassing excuses (mostly) to genuine ones (very few).
After the meetings, the President later regurgitated the same staff to journalists and, based on the tired tunes the two statutory bodies hummed to him, Mutharika declared that power outages will be history in a year or so.
Well, I must commend Mutharika’s handlers for this well-orchestrated ‘surprise’ visit.
It makes the President seen to be working, especially after the tough rebuke by-election voters dished out in good measure to the President and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) by mostly voting for the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
The shellacking must have jolted the President so much that it has finally dawned on him to focus on bread and butter issues—the real matters that Malawians care about.
But to be seen to be working is one thing while to actually work and deliver is a different ball game all together.
I am not exactly sure what Mutharika’s handlers were trying to achieve by shuffling him to attend these meetings.
Was it just the optics of Mutharika being paraded as a hands-on leader? Maybe this was a good idea, but it certainly was not well executed because it lacked a clear message and an end game.
The fact is that Malawians are very angry and fed up with these power companies, especially Escom.
As far as citizens are concerned, Escom is a corrupt, inefficient and a political gravy train that does not really care about its customers.
When Mutharika went to these institutions, people expected him to demand answers, not swallow excuses hook, line and sinker.
They certainly did not expect to see him palling around with the power utility executives in their well-polished boardrooms.
For starters, Escom has embarrassed Mutharika big time.
In November 2016, the President, as part of short-term intervention measures into the power supply crisis, told the nation that Escom would acquire diesel-operated generators on lease basis for an initial estimated period of 18 months.
By this month, those generators should have added 78 megawatts (MW) to the national grid to minimise the intensity of the current blackouts.
But instead of having more electricity, we are having more confirmation of how moribund, potentially corrupt and grossly inefficient Escom is.
That generator deal has not materialised because Escom has messed up the whole procurement process so much that it has had to be cancelled and retendered by Egenco (now that is another story for another day).
In short, Escom has failed to deliver on the President’s priority project without any remorse whatsoever. Yet, Mutharika was busy back-slapping with these folks on Wednesday.
So, I ask, given this disrespect the President has received from Escom, why was Mutharika buddy-buddying with the power companies’ executives and their board of directors?
Why was he accepting the same lies and excuses we have all heard before? Why, for goodness’ sake, didn’t any head roll? The generator fiasco is not the only procurement mess the power utility has been embroiled in. Remember the billions of inflated and questionable procurement deals that we exposed?
From yesterday’s outcome of the meetings, I get the sense that President Mutharika approves of the job that Escom and Egenco is doing.
As a leader, you can’t get more out of touch than this.