MBS assures Parliamentary Committee to address number plates monopoly

Newly-appointed Director General for Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS), Dr. Bernard Thole has clarified that the reports on some media platforms that he was deemed to have snubbed summons to appear before the Parliamentary Committee on Transport & Public Infrastructure has been reported out of context.

Some media platforms, whose reports went viral on social media, quotes the Parliamentary Committee chairperson, Enoch Phale as saying the Director General’s office has twice snubbed summons to appear before it.

Newly appointed Director General, Dr. Bernard Thole (right)

Phale is quoted further as saying the Committee feels this is tantamount to arrogance and is a disrespectful act by an officer of a  public serves — but when reached out by Maravi Express, Thole said its all about miscommunication.

“In summary, I am in touch with the Chair of the Committee and the matter is receiving required attention for redress — which based on some enquiries the Parliamentarians are looking into on quality controls of vehicle number plates and why MBS only awarded a contract just to one supplier, who has been monopolising the business.

Phale was also quoted as saying the meeting will be rescheduled as the issue on hand has dragged for very long, of which they received a complaint that there is a monopoly of supply of number plates and that MBS has been unfairly failing samples from applicants which had earlier been approved — yet the sole supplier MOVESA has had its samples failing the standards.

Phale is also reported to have said of great concern is that some of the applicants and players in the business are small & medium enterprises (SMEs) — “who need to be well guided and supported for growth to level the business play ground”.

The MBS Director General, who is an associate Professor in Applied Industrial Chemistry, was appointed effective March 1, 2023 having been at the Malawi University of Business & Applied Sciences (MUBAS) where he served as Dean of Faculty of Applied Sciences (2007-2009) and 2016-2018.

Before joining the University of Malawi, he worked as chemical officer for Chemicals & Textiles from 1996-1998 and his resume indicates that he is an accomplished consultant and researcher — an attribute which the MBS Board believes will help the institution to achieve its operational goals in its Industrial Research & Consultancy Unit.

He inherits this issue of importation of blank number plates, which has now dragged for some years and just last year the Competition & Fair Trading Commission (CFTC) fined MBS together with the Directorate of Road Traffic Services & Safety (DRTSS) for engaging in the anticompetitive conducts when they granted waiver to private firm MOVESA, as sole importer and supplier of number plates, yet the company had failed to meet specific standards.

MBS and DRTSS were also ordered to “cease and desist from engaging in anticompetitive conducts in the enforcement of standards regarding the importation of blank number plates” and further referred the case to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to investigate if there were elements of corruption.

The two government institutions were also ordered by CFTC to “comply with and enforce enacted legislation and/or approved procedures in the regulation of the importation of blank number plates in Malawi”.

One complainant, Bulldog — whose premises and those of other players were visited by the Parliamentary Committee on their fact finding mission — had already petitioned the ACB last year on MBS and DRTSS decision to award MOVESA as the sole blank number plate importer made in 2010 — suspecting that “there might be an element of corruption” involved in the process.

The complainant had asked the ACB to 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”.

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