Corruption suspect Batatawala’s relation Sabina caught by ESCOM in illegal consumption of electricity units; Charged penalty of K5.7m

* Since Kamkwamba Kumwenda’s appointment as CEO, ESCOM has been busting a syndicate of its and EGENCO employees

* Who were selling pre-paid meter units to parallel structures of companies and individuals since 2018

*”They are given too much units which they don’t manage to consume in a month — thus selling off the excess”

* “A senior engineer at ESCOM “had accumulated units to last him his life time, even for a factory when he was leaving ESCOM”

By Duncan Mlanjira

Sabina Batatawala, a relation to one of the corruption suspects, Karim Abdul Batatawala being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in the landmark corruption charges — has been discovered by ESCOM to have been consuming electricity units in violation of tariff principles.

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A letter from ESCOM Chief Executive Officer, Kamkwamba Kumwenda informs Sabina — whose meter number is 37154318077 — that in pursuant to Electricity Laws, the power utility company “is entitled to recover any illegal consumption of electricity including costs associated thereto”.

“In view of this, please take note that ESCOM Ltd will charge your account a total of K5,721,788.80 for the illegal consumption [and that] “ESCOM Ltd urges you to make an immediate payment of the charges with our Revenue office, in order to avert a negative balance on your account and deductions at every purchase of electricity units.”

Since Kumwenda’s appointment as CEO, ESCOM has been busting a syndicate of its and Electricity Generation Company (EGENCO) employees, who have defrauded the company of about K60 billion worth of pre-paid meter units since 2018 that were sold on parallel structures to companies and individuals.

Kamkwamba Kumwenda

In March, Kumwenda indicated that this has been going on since the company migrated to pre-paid meter billing system and preliminary findings exposed some Malawians of Asian origin and their companies, who would not have been buying electricity units from ESCOM for the next five years until they were discovered.

“We are losing K12 billion annually through commercial loss which include ESCOM and EGENCO employess selling their electricity allocations to these entities and individuals,” Kumwenda was quoted as saying back in March, when his team made a surprise visit on Kips Restaurant in Blantyre, which was accused of buying electricity from parallel markets.

Kumwenda told the media alleging that the restaurant had dubiously been buying units from ESCOM and EGENCO employees and they “will name and shame all people who are doing such illegal activities”.

On Wednesday, the High Court in Blantyre heard that more than 30% of free-issue electricity units consumed by Member of Parliament Shadric Namalomba’s Mulanje-based Nalipiri Eco Resort, violated tariff principles and that he effected transfers from domestic to business premises, which violated ESCOM’s tariff rules and resulted into a loss on ESCOM’s part.

MP Shadric Namalomba

The submission made in response to the interlocutory injunction order which Namalomba — who is Mangochi South West legislator as well as Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee chairperson — applied in the High Court restraining ESCOM from debiting 91,825 kWh units as debt.

ESCOM submitted that the electricity units he had illegally consumed were treated as a debt after thorough investigations that found that the transactions were contrary to the Tariff Principles.

The hearing was adjourned to June 8 to allow Namalomba and his legal team time to to respond to ESCOM’s submissions, that provided evidence of alleged fraud.

Namalomba, who is also spokesperson for former Head of State Arthur Peter Mutharika (APM), is acting on his own behalf as owner of Nalipiri Eco Resort, denying the accusations and sought court intervention in disagreement to the action taken by ESCOM which is debiting Namalomba’s business place on meter number 37154401832 with 91.825.40 kWh units as a debt.

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Namalomba is also a former director of finance for EGENCO, who was being given free units as part of his fringe benefits — which were paid for by his employer and could be transferred from one meter to another through application to ESCOM for approval.

Commenting on social media, some concerned Malawians are of the opinion that ESCOM and EGENCO should review the fringe benefits they provide to their employees, saying they are given too much units which they don’t manage to consume in a month — thus selling off the excess.

One commentator revealed that a friend of his — a senior engineer at ESCOM — “had accumulated units to last him his life time, even for a factory when he was leaving ESCOM”.

“Since they are allowed to migrate the units to another meter, I was once offered we should go to ESCOM where he will declare that he has changed his meter to mine.

“The units were also to last me moyo onse (life time) for about K1 million. I didn’t go for it because some boss at ESCOM advised me that ESCOM changed its system and I will be left with useless units.”

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He gave an example of top government officials who receive free fuel that can enable them to travel between Blantyre and Lilongwe every day but cannot completely consume their monthly quota.

“There is so much abuse. Same with Airtel and TNM units — now with MoFaya and Pamtsetse, they don’t need all the money paid for communication. It’s just a way of poverty alleviation.”

Another acknowledged that ESCOM “has put in place system not to be transferring the free-issue units to another meter — the same with Airtel or TNM, who give units that they can’t share but only for their own calls.

When put across to him on these sentiments, Kumwenda said they “have put in strong controls to avoid abuse” but “cannot completely refuse customer requests for transfer of units since some have genuine reasons like change of houses or replacement of faulty meter”.

“The issue of quantum is a board issue and will necessitate change of conditions of service.”

He also indicated that they have discovered so many customers who were buying units at single phase tariff while on the ground they have 3 phase.

In court on Wednesday, ESCOM’s revenue protection supervisor of investigations, Morris Lingomanje disclosed three tariff categories of single-phase domestic (applicable to residential single-phase charging K92.30 inclusive VAT per kWh); single-phase general tariff (applicable to single phase business installation charging K136.65 inclusive VAT per kWh); and three-phase general tariff — applicable to three-phase business installation charging K151.10 inclusive VAT per kWh.

MW