The government’s decision to award a contract to Motor Vehicle Spares and Accessories (Movesa) as the sole blank number plate importer made in 2010 has taken a new twist as a concerned citizen has written the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to investigate the controversy “as there might be an element of corruption” involved in the process.
In the detailed 6-paged petition which Nyasa Times has in possession, the concerned citizen — who did not identify themselves — cites that the ACB should look at the aspect of corruption because the decision to award Movesa as a sole importer was “to block all players from entering the market” yet Movesa’s number plates have been “failing to meet the standards many times”.
The ACB has been notified that in 2010, the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) officially informed Malawian motorists that they needed to change their old number plates to the new SADC standard Retro Reflective.
The concerned citizen says the process to effect the new traffic regulations — with Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) and DRTSS as government institutions as regulators — was not tendered out or advertised “so that businesses could apply to become importers of the retro reflective number plates”.
DRTSS is said to have initiated the specifications required in line with the new SADC guidelines while MBS was to enforce the correct standards.
Without tendering, the concerned citizen says MBS wrote Movesa on March 23, 2011 a letter (ref BS/QAD/58/0) congratulating the company for its registration with the Ministry of Transport on becoming and importer of the retro reflective number plates — license number IMP/RPB/001.
The complainant further quotes the letter of congratulation that it informed Movesa would, together with MBS, work “to facilitate prevention of importation of substandard blank plates by unscrupulous importers by subjecting [Movesa’s] consignment for conformity assessment against the Malawi Standard MS 639-1.”
The concerned citizen questions this arrangement that Movesa was made a regulator when he was the only importer of number plates and thus blocking other business entities in a country that enjoys liberal market.
The ACB is also made aware that on April 4, 2011 — barely two weeks after being granted the contract — MBS notified Movesa that his number plates failed the MS 639-1 standard test IQR/11/117 and was asked to notify his supplier for redress.
The concerned citizen alleges that over the years, many of Movesa sample plates have failed the standard tests but they still found their way on the market and to date most of the substandard plates on the roads show different colours, appear with different flags and “some with no Malawi flag at all”.
“Different colour number plates have been supplied and sold to motorists across the country. Even the regulatory bodies, DRTSS and MBS vehicles have the wrong colour plates from light yellow to dark yellow and some are orange.”
The complainant outlines that some plates have faded well before the expiry date of 2026 and that some flags show black, red and blue instead of green, many have creases (which is a major standard failure) and there’s no luminosity of the reflective material on the plates with some peeling off making it a risk and a safety hazard to motorists.
“All of the above are major parameter failures but the regulatory authority MBS continues to turn a blind eye to Movesa’s numerous failures and continue allowing him to be the sole importer/preferred supplier resulting in many different substandard number plates being on the market.”
The complainant asks the ACB to investigate these anomalies, saying this is of “national interest and affects the security of the country”.
“The diplomatic community, Malawi Police Service, statutory corporations, Immigration, government vehicles and local motorists have all been affected by using different types of number plates which have been imported and sold by the sole/preferred importer.
“…We have different fake registration number plates on our vehicles which cross borders every single day. We are fortunate not to have our vehicles being stopped at the borders because of different colours, different flags and some with no Malawian flag at all.”
The petitioner, who is also an interested stakeholder, furthers says DRTSS MBS kept changing blank number plate importation test specifications to block others business entities — all in favour of Movesa.
After DRTSS notified Movesa on April 4, 2011 that his number plates failed the MS 639-1 standard test IQR/11/117, MBS is reported to have responded on May 18, 2011 indicating that Movesa’s fails “should be treated as minor” while on January 4, 2012 both MBS and DRTSS agreed that since the standard was currently under review and to not stop the program, the plates that failed to meet the standard must carry on.
“This was happening when there were other businesses whose number plates had passed the standard MS639-1,” says the complaint letter to the ACB, wondering why MBS did not engage such businesses “to bring correct standard plates”.
The complainant — whose company applied to import the blank plates and was told to get his products tested by a laboratory outside MBS mandate — revealed that on January 4, 2012 MBS’ deputy director informed DRTSS that if they allowed “too many importers on the market” before harmonizing the standard “with regulations there would be enforcement challenges that would compromise the integrity in both MBS and DRTSS”.
“We need to ensure that our vehicles are fitted with uniform number plates that can be perceived by the general public as being standardized and the only solution to achieving this is, in our opinion to apply a common yardstick which is essentially the standard currently under review.”
The communication between the two regulators then proposed that they “should suspend registration of prospective importers of number plates [and] to maintain Movesa in order that the program should not stall”.
The complainant says in May 2015, a separate importer’s test report from MBS passed the standard MS639 2011, which allowed DRTSS to grant his company a license in April 2016 along with serial numbers to start importing number plates.
The importer placed an order with suppliers in China for blank plates and once they arrived a Mr. Chikopa from MBS collected samples for testing on November 30, 2016. But on December 19, the interested importer received communication that the “sample plates had failed the tests and should not be sold but destroyed”.
“They made us order the number plates as shown in the test report of the 15th May, 2015 only to fail once the consignment arrived. We we left trying to figure out which test result was valid.”
The complainant was incredulous that MBS told them to import the product identical to those given for test only to be told they have failed the test and MBS’ official Wanachi Chauluka visited the importer’s offices “to inspect the consignment on 9th February 2017 and placed it under quarantine”.
“What makes us doubt the whole process is that the sole importer Movesa, who has been allowed to import the blank number plates and is still importing, has had his number plates fail the standards but the Bureau treats his fails as minor and ours as major.
“There are serious double standards at work here. I would like to stress that our number plates failed on some minor parameters but passed all major parameters.
“[MBS] seems to be favouring [Movesa] as he was being allowed to import and sell his number plates that had failed major parameters but instructions were being give to treat the major fails as minor.
“There is need to be a level playing field and not having different standards for different people” as per the “2011 standard used and that has always been in line with the 2010 DRTSS Act and even published in a newspaper advert on the 9th February, 2015.”
The ACB has also been noted that former deputy quality assurance service officer Steve Kamuloni is working as a consultant for Movesa in the implementation of MS639 standard and has attended standard meeting in 2019 at Hapuwani Lodge and Malawi Sun Hotel in 2021 as a representative of Movesa.
“This is the same individual who was instrumental in manipulating the standard to suit Movesa,” says the complainant in the detailed 6-page report,” says the complainant in the petition.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :