Buluma at the centre of the country’s fuel crisis
* Her resignation has circulated on social media platforms following her relief from her responsibilities as acting head of NOCMA
* But had not yet been submitted to the office of the President & Cabinet
* Her relief from duties is in line with the expectations of the determination of the office of the Ombudsman
By Duncan Mlanjira
A public notice from the Ministry of Information & Digitalization says Helen Buluma was relieved of her duties as acting chief executive officer of National Oil Company of Malawi (NOCMA) “in line with the expectations of the determination of the office of the Ombudsman”.
The Ministry is reacting to Buluma’s letter of resignation, saying she has just circulated it on social media platforms following her relief from her responsibilities as acting head of NOCMA but had not yet been submitted to the office of the President & Cabinet.
In her resignation letter dated November 14, Buluma accused the NOCMA Board chairperson Colleen Zamba and Secretary for Energy Alfonso Chikuni of flouting energy laws as reason for tendering resignation, citing the Public Finance Act 2022; Public Procurement & Disposal Act and other legal, regulatory and corporate governance frameworks “which NOCMA, as a public company is supposed to adhere to”.
Addressed to Zamba and also copied to the SPC and Secretary for Energy — as well as Secretary to Treasury — Buluma contends that her decision has been reached “after serious consideration and taking into account the immense pressure” that she faced over the past recent months from Zamba, Chikuni and others “to bring new suppliers through dubious means and in some instances expensive fuel financiers”.
She also said she had faced numerous pressure to surrender NOCMA depot in Chipoka, Salima to a Malawi Congress Party (MCP) politician and his Asian investor and that “one big transporter brokerage company was working directly with politicians to take all of NOCMA’s transportation business and claim billions from Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) under a particular incoterm whilst passing the cost to the consumers, among others”.
Buluma made several unsubstantiated allegations against Zamba, the Energy Ministry and the whole government machinery while indicating that President Lazarus Chakwera “has strongly been against this and advised me to always do everything according to the law and not bow down to any political pressure, otherwise or directly, in conflict to His Excellency’s direction on political meddling and influencing”.
In response to all this drama unfolding over Buluma, Consumer Association of Malawi (CAMA) Executive Secretary, John Kapito says there have been so many concerns on how NOCMA is run essentially at Board level and “this has created fears from consumers — considering the many corruption allegations that have been raised”.
“One wonders whether the current prices of fuel are inflated deliberately to pay off the many corrupt deals that are being done by NOCMA,” Kapito said.
“Apparently matters concerning NOCMA have been in the public media for a long time beginning with the structure of the governance board and various appointments at management level.
“A lot has been said and the appointing authority dismissed everything that was said about NOCMA. We are aware that the President had fired the acting CEO, which never materialized.
“There has been infighting between NOCMA and MERA for sometime and NOCMA acted more as a regulatory body and finally the Ombudsman made a determination on the recruitment and position of the acting CEO.
“Yet government refused to accept the Ombudsman’s determination while the acting CEO decides to resign due to high levels of corruption by the Board and it comes with a dismissal letter.
“All this does not make sense and all fingers are pointing to the appointing authority, who is the State President — who for a long time has watched these events at NOCMA unfold without intervening or questioning it that one may ask is; what was the role of the President?
“We need a strong answer from the President — the one who appointed these dramatists. There is need for the NOCMA Act to be reviewed immediately, especially the composition of the Board and its mandate,” Kapito said, adding that NOCMA’s role should be “limited to storage and to stop procurement of petroleum products”.
The NOCMA chairperson’s November 15 letter to Buluma was based on the determination made by the Ombudsman that ordered that the NOCMA Board should relieve her of duties.
Zamba said after the Board wrote to the Ombudsman on October 31 objecting to her determination to effect the decision, they obtained an alternative legal advice from the Attorney General, who advised them that they were “compelled to undertake the determination even if disagreed”.
“Any review rights are the domain of the Courts,” Zamba said in her letter. “Consequently, I regret to inform you that you have been relieved from your duties, effective immediately in compliance with the Ombudsman’s determination.”
Zamba’s letter was copied to herself as SPC, Secretary for Energy and Comptroller of Statutory Corporations.