Kudos to ACB for intervening in controversial NOCMA fuel deals, Parliamentary Budget and Finance Committee Chair Ganda, HRDC, Malawians vindicated

Some of her ‘Honourable’ colleagues scorned her and called her names. But Nsanje Lalanje Member of Parliament (MP) and Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament Gladys Ganda stood her ground, advising the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change to defer its report on NOCMA-MERA fuel procurement contract controversy, alleging serious anomalies.

There had been disagreements between the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) and National Oil Company of Malawi (NOCMA) over the award of fuel contracts by NOCMA, with MERA claiming fundamental procedures had been flouted.

MERA refused to approve NOCMA’s 2021 to 2022 application to offer fuel supply contracts to Independent Petroleum Group (IPG) and Lake Oil Limited, citing lack of transparency in the bidding process, among other reasons. NOCMA has been adamant, arguing MERA has overstepped its mandate by meddling in NOCMA’s procurement mandate.

The Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change stepped in to resolve the impasse, separately meeting officials from NOCMA, MERA and other stakeholders to find the way forward.

In her contribution on May 27, 2021 on the ‘Special Report of the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change on the Process of Procuring Fuel by National Oil Company of Malawi (NOCMA) and the Role of Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA),’ which was presented earlier on the same day by the committee’s Chair, Welani Chilenga, Ganda expressed serious reservations over some aspects of the report, including the endorsement of one of the approved suppliers, Lake Oil Limited.

Ganda had called upon the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to launch an investigation into the matter, smelling shady dealings.

On Wednesday, June 9, 2021, the ACB stepped in and issued a restriction order stopping NOCMA “from dealing with procurement processes towards award of contracts to the same companies Ganda advised not to be considered”.

Pursuant to its powers under section 23 (1) of the Corrupt Practices Act, the ACB issued a restriction notice to NOCMA on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 on its awarding a contract to supply fuel under procurement number NOCMA/ICB/2020/2021.

According to the ACB, its decision follows allegations of irregularities and suspected corruption surrounding the fuel procurement process. The ACB feels duty-bound to institute investigations into the matter.

It follows, therefore, that with this restriction notice in place, NOCMA cannot proceed with the awarding of fuel procurement contract until the ACB has concluded the investigation or lifted the restriction notice.

We reported a fortnight ago that MP Ganda felt uncomfortable over NOCMA’s choice of Lake Oil Limited, which she alleged is on the verge of being declared bankrupt in Tanzania and that it is currently fighting for its survival in the courts.

It is not prudent for NOCMA to engage that sort of supplier because our forex reserves are always a challenge and this requires a supplier to be offered a Letter of Credit for 90 days.

The Budget and Finance Committee Chair also faulted NOCMA for sidelining MERA in the identification of suppliers, arguing that legally, NOCMA is supposed to get approval first from MERA before seeking approval from PPDA.

Ganda called upon the ACB to investigate NOCMA on the issue of Lake Oil Limited and flouting bidding procedures by failing to get premium approval from MERA.

Last week, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) also wrote the ACB to intervene and stop the fuel procurement contract (s) because of the controversy surrounding identification of suppliers.

HRDC National Coordinator has hailed the ACB for heeding to their demand.

Indeed, many irate Malawians have taken to the various social media platforms to condemn NOCMA, MERA and indeed some senior government officials regarding the glaring lack of transparency and accountability in this matter.

We at Nyasa Times wish to join all well-meaning Malawians in commending the ACB for hearing the people’s concerns and acting swiftly to attempt to stop alleged wrongdoing.

We call upon the ACB to swiftly engage MERA and NOCMA officers, including those that were suspended recently, to establish the whole truth surrounding this NOCMA- MERA fiasco. More importantly, we call on the Government of Malawi to remove any bottlenecks that would impede the ACB in pursuit of the truth and justice surrounding fuel procurement contract(s). Government may consider sending the acting NOCMA CEO Helen Buluma and other relevant senior officers on leave to prevent them from interfering with the investigations.

We wish to call upon the ACB to act with speed so that this matter is concluded as soon possible to enable the country resume importation of fuel. There has already been a five-month delay in the procurement of fuel due to the said misunderstandings. Any further delay would cause a serious damage on the already fragile economy as fuel is Malawi’s most strategic commodity.

Indeed, this is a watershed moment and a huge litmus test for the new ACB Director, Martha Chizuma, who has been widely touted as Malawi’s finest solution to official corruption and abuse of public resources owing to her impeccable performance as Ombudsman.

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