SPC nest for Corruption, plays part in fuel crisis


Secretary to the President and Cabinet has become a position where the holder is alleged to be using his or her advantage to disrupt the process of Oil Procurement for personal benefits at the National Oil Company of Malawi.

Six Months ago, the State President, Dr Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera announced the furlough of Zanga-Zanga Chikhosi and replaced him with the then Head of Presidential Delivery Unit and Chief Adviser to the President on SDGs and International Affairs, Collen Zamba.

He did not reveal the reason behind the sacking where by he attributed the change to build a robust monitoring system.

“To build a robust monitoring system that ensures strict adherence to these measures and other directives in all MDAs [ministries, departments and agencies], I have appointed Ms. Colleen Zamba as the new Secretary to the President and Cabinet with immediate effect, taking over from Mr Zanga-Zanga Chikhosi, whom I am deploying elsewhere. Ms. Zamba will communicate other spending control measures in due course,” Chakwera said.

The Anti-Corruption Bureau at one point had summoned Chikhosi over the National Oil Company of Malawi (NOCMA) fuel deal. This could be one of the reasons for his removal from the position of SPC.

According to a witness list the graft-busting body had cataloged to the court under criminal case 934 of 2021, Chikhosi, who at that time, was also serving as Nocma board chairperson, was listed as witness number four while the then Nocma deputy chief executive officer Hellen Buluma was witness number two.

Not only that, Chikhosi was also being complicated in Sattar’s bribery. But that is not in line with fuel crisis.

After the appointment of Zamba, expectations jutted out, as Chakwera was trying to bring sanity in his administration.

Colleen Zamba, soon after appointed as new SPC, had warned that she would deal with all errant principal secretaries and heads of government departments and parastatals whom she said have in the last 12 years put the public service in bad light.

She said she would set up performance targets along lines of transparency and accountability to ensure that they all deliver on their mandates.

“The first tier to deal with is the senior management teams of the civil/public service. I will set up performance targets and I will be reviewing their performance every quarter.

“I will not be waiting until the end of the year to address those that have not been doing anything. Definitely if one is failing to meet the targets, then they are not fit for the job,” she said.

Instead of bringing a change, Zamba has brought the worse. There is saying which goes “clever are those who learn from others’ mistakes, fools learn from their own mistakes”. And under this belt, Zamba could be placed in the category of fool who could not learn from Chikhosi’s wrongdoings. Just six months under the helm, she is complicated in Fule deals.

For the past years, Malawi has been hit by fuel crisis, lack of foreign exchange is said to be the reason, but there might be a big reason behind it, Corruption is dismantling Malawi and the subjects of the wrong-doings are those who don’t even know the colour of a ATM Card who just ask for today’s food in the peripherals.

The acquiescence or the firing of Hellen Buluma as a Acting Chief Executive Officer of National Oil Company of Malawi has unearthed more predicament in the Ernegy sector.

According to the report by the Platform of Investigative Journalism, Colleen Zamba, lobbied, coaxed and pressured the state-owned National Oil Company of Malawi (NOCMA) to consent contracts to suppliers under the image of the country’s prevailing fuel emergency in an alleged eccentric manner that flouted procurement procedures.  

Though the government characterizes the removal of Buluma as a result of respect for the Ombudsman’s decision that declared her hiring by the previous regime as illegal, but the documents that reveal desperate attempts by the administration’s most senior civil servants seeking to pressure Buluma to hire their preferred suppliers to suggest something different.
PIJ reports that Long before any agreement had been reached, the hand-picked suppliers had already drafted contracts.

Curiously, since several of the suppliers referred to NOCMA by Zamba or the ministers had already drafted contracts, it left NOCMA, as the procuring entity, with the option of simply rubber-stamping the deals. 

Numerous meetings were held to appear to legitimize the decision, and the declaration of a fuel crisis was used as an excuse to ensure the process received legitimacy. 

The cache of documents confirms details already provided to parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) by NOCMA’s former deputy Chief Executive Officer and de facto CEO Hellen Buluma and offers the full extent to which Secretary to President and Cabinet (SPC) pressured the state oil company to award contracts to new suppliers.

Refusal to succumb to pressure to grant the contracts eventually led to the decision to fire Buluma as NOCMA’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer and de facto CEO. 

The government also characterizes its interventions at NOCMA as all lawful and necessary in wake of the fuel crisis the country is facing, but the documents, minutes of meetings, interviews, and text messages sourced by the PIJ show that a specific list of suppliers appears to have been predetermined by the Zamba.

The documents show companies such as 700 SA Oil and Gas, fronted by a man identified in Buluma’s parliamentary inquiry testimony as the Chief, issued Full Corporate Offers (FCOs) to NOCMA and presented them through the SPCs before NOCMA had advertised a call for expressions of interest.

On 10 October 2022, 700 SA Oil and Gas, which indicated in documents it is based in Modderforntein in South Africa, issued its FCO to NOCMA to supply 40 000 MT of petrol per month at $930 for three months at a total cost of $111, 600 000  (around 134 billion kwacha.)

Buluma in an interview with PIJ said the chain of events started when SPC Zamba invited her for a meeting at Capital Hill on the morning of 26th October. 

“Board Chairperson in one of our meetings advised that someone by the name of Chief will get in touch and send through a full Corporate Offer for fuel supply and that I should quickly work on offer i.e. make it happen ASAP so that he can get an allocation from the BADEA facility which was soon to be approved.”

SPC also advised Buluma to provide the Chief with the country’s specifications and requirements for fuel and diesel. Chief’s company, 700 SA Oil and Gas, sent its Full Corporate Offer (FCO) two days later on 28th October 2022.

WhatsApp text messages showed Zamba pressuring Buluma for updates on procuring fuel from a particular supplier, the Chief. At the time, NOCMA had just accessed the new facility from Badea to help finance fuel procurement. Previously, the country had struggled to access 
Zamba, in one particular text, said she wanted the contract for the chief drafted before NOCMA finished all slots for suppliers. 

On Tuesday 8th November, Zamba wrote Buluma, sounding a bit desperate for the deal to go through: 

“Za chief zijatu adona. (where are we on Chief’s deal). Please time is moving and facility muyamba kumaliza kugawa apa (you will end up giving out all the contracts) while we are still talking,” she wrote at 8.43 am.

Zamba, in another exchange, appears to name-drop the President’s name to put pressure on Buluma to give contracts to the Chief. (There is little evidence that the President had anything to do with the Chief deal, particularly, or any of the companies preferred by the SPC or Ministers. In her testimony to parliament, Buluma also said the President was not involved) 
She added: “My dear, just briefed HE on today’s position. He is concerned about ques (sic) akuti kodi tipeza atatha (he says we find the queues over?). I said we are doing our best.”

She also texted Buluma the following day on 9th November 2022 at 3.56 pm: “Where are we Chief FCO? There is need to respond ASAP. Cannot have this week lapse. Have proper documents be done (sic).”

The chief, himself, also made several phone and text appeal to Buluma asking for the contract to be granted. 

The fule crisis is being fuelled by people in high authorities who try to look for their own benefits. They interfere with NOCMA’s duties as they try to force the board to grant contracts to companies that they [in authorities] benefit with.

Buluma’s previous allegations of interference in NOCMA led to the arrests of senior government officials in the Tonse Administration. Former Energy Minister Newton Kambala, Aford President Enoch Chihana and Presidential Advisor Chris Chaima Banda.  Buluma is a key witness for the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in the corruption trial against the three.

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