The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), under the stewardship of former ombudsman Martha Chizuma, who assumed her role as director general of the graft-busting body just last week, has stopped the National Oil Company of Malawi (NOCMA) from awarding contract under procurement number NOCMA/ICB/FUEL/2020/2021 to supply fuel on allegations of “irregularities and suspected corruption” surrounding the procurement process.
The cancellation follows a public outcry from social media influencers and whistleblowers who felt the award of fuel supply contracts to Lake Oil Limited, Dalbit International Limited and Camel Oil (T) Limited was “suspicious,” with strong likelihood of involvement of fraud and corruption.
ACB principal public relations officer, Egrita Ndala, said in a statement on Wednesday that “the restriction is effective until the Bureau concludes investigations into the matter or lift it.”
In the fuel supply contract under question, NOCMA awarded Lake Oil Limited (to supply 35 000 and 65 000 metric tons of mogas and gasoil respectively, Dalbit International Limited (to supply 41 461 and 38 539 metric tons of mogas and gasoil respectively) and Camel Oil (T) Limited (to supply 20 407 and 34 413 metric tons of mogas and gasoil respectively).
Whistleblowers, however, mentioned that NOCMA had opted for the awarded suppliers despite them being much more expensive than other suppliers that submitted bids for the same contracts.
Malawians, including renowned social media influencer, Stanley Onjezani Kenani, took to social media platform, Facebook, suspecting foul play on the part of NOCMA as it published the notice of intention to award the contracts without attached cost tags.
Kenani, a well read and travelled Malawian, said the award of the fuel supply contracts by NOCMA left a lot to be desired.
“They [NOCMA] first decided to award two companies only, Lake Oil and IPG, the most expensive among the bidders. Then mysteriously, now NOCMA has dropped IPG, and has included two other suppliers. No one knows why. No explanation, nothing. The next thing they publish their intention to award the contract in the papers without indicating any prices. NOCMA must be held to account. It must be investigated pretty quickly, before placing the burden on the heads of 18 million Malawians,” Kenani wrote on Facebook.
Another, Gani Bika, wondered why the powers-that-be were lukewarm on clearing the rubble that is at NOCMA.
And, Howard Mlozi, a trained journalist opined that the department [NOCMA] lacked transparency.
“It needs Martha Chizuma as director of operations,” said Mlozi.
‘Rot at NOCMA’
Nyasa Times understands that the scam at NOCMA is existent because there are parties interested especially politicians and politically-connected businesspersons who stand to benefit in one way or another.
“The whole thing is a scam. The first lot has four companies but the powers-that-be were unhappy with some brokers who would benefit from the deal so they cancelled. When they chose the next two, the initial benefitting brokers cried foul. This is all about greed, impunity and gluttony. The process must be restarted, preferably starting with making sure that there is a transparently appointed CEO at NOCMA,” said John Jali.
Hellen Buluma, the acting NOCMA CEO, has, since the Tonse Alliance took over power, been under fire for underperformance and for being a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) operative with aims of frustrating the oil industry in the country.
Buluma contested for a parliamentary seat in 2019 on DPP ticket but lost.
‘HRDC wanted NOCMA investigated’
Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) also asked the Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB) to investigate allegations of corruption and abuse of office in the ongoing procurement of fuel supply contracts by NOCMA.
HRDC’s call came against a background of bitter fighting between the boards and management of National Oil Company (Nocma) and Malawi Energy Regulation Authority (Mera).
In a statement co-signed by HRDC chairperson Gift Trapence and national coordinator Luke Tembo, the civil society organisation also wanted the graft-busting body to suspend the procurement process.
The letter, dated May 27 2021, stated that the awarding of contracts was shrouded by underhand dealings; allegations of selection of contracts with overpriced bids.
In the letter, HRDC further asked for “an immediate, thorough and expedited investigation on each step of the procurement process including the bidding, evaluation, selection and awarding of contracts” and a “thorough review of role of the boards of Mera, Nocma, government ministers, politicians and the oil suppliers in the process”.
Read part of the letter: “To avert any possible abuses of office and misappropriation of taxpayer money, we call for your office to immediately suspend the whole procurement process until you have satisfied yourself that relevant procurement laws have been satisfied and that no offences under the Corrupt Practices Act (CPA) have been committed.”
The Parliamentary Committee on Environment and Natural Resources intervened through interface meetings with both institutions passed a resolution mandating Nocma to proceed with the procurement.
But HRDC had said the committee’s move was tantamount to interference in the procurement process.
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