Secretary to the President & Cabinet (SPC) Zanga-Zanga Chikhosi
* Parastatals must operate with total independence and be accountable to Malawians
* Continued pressure and interference by the OPC in the operations of parastatals is a clear demonstration of impunity
* The politics of appeasement and patronage have continued, pretty much like in previous regimes
* This is particularly true in the appointments of Chief Executive Officers to various parastatals
By Duncan Mlanjira
Catholic Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi joined the condemnation of public plunder of resources through corrupt means as well as the role that the Office of the President and Cabinet plays in the operations of parastatal companies — describing it as government interference.
Thus the Bishops — just as other concerned civil society organisations did recently — propose that the parastatals “must operate with total independence and be accountable to Malawians”.
“Sadly, continued pressure and interference by the Office of the President and Cabinet in the operations of parastatals is a clear demonstration of impunity. We call upon the leadership to intervene and provide the necessary executive political leadership.
“The politics of appeasement and patronage have continued, pretty much like in previous regimes. This is particularly true in the appointments of Chief Executive Officers to various parastatals.
“It is our view that resolving these issues immediately require forthright executive political leadership that would intervene in ways that would promote integrity, uprightness and the rule of law.”
Just recently, there was controversy that surrounded the appointment of Henry Kachaje as CEO for Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA), whose recruitment was judged by the Ombudsman to have been irregularly discharged.
The Board of Directors were then judged to have been ‘incompetent’ in the recruitment process that led the OPC to propose to the Parliamentary Public Appointment Committee to fire the whole Board.
When called for a hearing before the Parliamentary Public Appointment Committee, MERA’s Board chairperson, Leonnard Chikadya just tendered his resignation, while hinting that “the OPC has been searching for good reasons to remove the MERA Board because of the professional manner in which it handled various strategic matters in the interests of protecting the economic and social welfare of Malawians, as provided for in MERA’s mandate as a Regulator of Energy services in Malawi.”
Chikadya cited two examples that caused strain in the relationship between the MERA Board and Secretary to the President & Cabinet (SPC), that included “NOCMA premiums fuel contracts that have not been approved by the MERA Board to date, and yet NOCMA is receiving fuel supplies with premiums that remain unapproved”.
He revealed that the MERA Board he led refused to grant such approval on account of the uncompetitive premiums, which would unduly burden Malawians with frequent fuel pump price rises.
He further said during a previous enquiry into the MERA Board, the Parliamentary Public Appointment Committee was able to establish that having the SPC as chairperson of various Boards of Public Enterprises — including NOCMA, EGENCO, and Power Marketing Limited — “is a serious governance anomaly”.
“It would be extremely difficult for the MERA Board to provide oversight of regulation on any institution where the Chairperson is the SPC, who also heads Civil Service.
“The recent PAC report to Parliament where they have recommended removal of the SPC is being blamed on the MERA Board as the source PAC recommendations.”
Chikadya pointed out that MERA through the Ministry of Energy is amongst others, a signatory and member of Regional Energy Regulating Association (RERA), Regional Association of Energy Regulators for Eastern and Southern Africa (RAERESA) and African Forum for Utility Regulators (AFUR).
“All these bodies advocate for independence of local Energy Regulatory bodies from political influence or any other sources. It is unfortunate that the events affecting MERA Board have the potential to downgrade the credibility of MERA amongst its peer’s regional bodies.”
This is what the Bishops also fear of in asking the independence of the parastatals, who take note that “these institutions accumulate and manage huge amounts of revenues that do not go through the national budget”.
“This enables spending without sufficient accountability and creates an environment for siphoning public resources for narrow political ends and personal benefits.”
They also highlighted the plunder of public resources, patronage and impunity, saying “as Catholic Bishops we, together with all concerned Malawians, are deeply shocked and dismayed by the recent revelations concerning the plunder of public resources by foreign nationals in partnership with corrupt politicians and civil servants”.
“We are now more than convinced that this country has enough resources which, if put to good use, could propel it to meaningful development for all.
“These revelations should serve as an opportunity for us as a country to demonstrate concretely that our battle against corruption is not just mere lip service but a genuine and relentless fight to eliminate this cancer in our country.”
They also blamed “some greedy Malawians” in Chakwera’s administration who are “siding with those responsible for the plunder of resources instead of siding with the poor who are victims of corruption”.
“These resources belong to Malawians and if put to good use, this country would not be where it is today. True patriotism demands that we should feel angry at such unpatriotic behaviour and religiously defend the resources of our country.
“This can go a long way in improving service delivery, infrastructure development, etc.”
Signed by Most Reverend George Tambala (President, Archbishop of Lilongwe and Apostolic Administrator of Zomba); Right Reverend Montfort Stima (Vice-President and Bishop of Mangochi); Most Reverend Thomas Msusa (Blantyre); Right Reverend Martin Mtumbuka (Karonga); Right Reverend Peter Musikuwa (Chikwawa); Right Reverend John Ryan (Mzuzu) and Right Reverend Peter Chifukwa (Dedza).