Ndirande Police arrest 2 who were intercepted in possession of vandalized 300m of Escom power wires

Two people are in custody at Ndirande Police in Blantyre after they were intercepted over the weekend in possession of 300m of Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) power lines wires valued at K900,000, which are suspected to have been vandalized in Lirangwe last weekend.

A statement from the Police has identified the two as Isaac Mgaiwa, 22, from Beni Village in Traditional Authority Phuka in Dedza  and Busy Tsabola, 52, from Nyamalo Village, Traditional Authority Nkhumba in Phalombe District.

The Police statement said a motor vehicle patrol team was on their routine duties on the particular night and as they were around Kameza roundabout, they intercepted the suspected criminals who were carrying two bags full of unidentified items.

The two suspects currently in custody

The Police became suspicious after a pillion passenger escaped from the place as the patrol team were approaching them and upon checking the contents of the bags, they discovered that there were ESCOM wires.

“Upon interrogating the rider who had been abandoned by his passenger, he confessed to have just been hired by four people to transport the stuff from Lirangwe to Blanytre.”

The Police further says the pillion rider then cooperated with the Police patrol by calling one of the accomplice suspects, Isaac Mgaiwa by pretending to be stuck at Kameza and needed immediate help.

“When he arrived, the patrol immediately apprehended him and was taken to Ndirande Police Station, who led the officers to trace and arrest Busy Tsabola.

“ESCOM officials and Police detectives visited Lirangwe and according to ESCOM security officer, the suspects took advantage that there was no power supply in the area since a transformer there was vandalised and was retrieved to their offices for maintenance.

“Police in Ndirande are still hunting for the remaining two suspects, who are still on the run,” said the statement, while appealing to community members to report on anyone they suspect be in hiding.

“The Police is also warning those behind the vandalism malpractices that the law will catch up with them and they will not be spare — once arrested they will be prosecuted accordingly.”

Isaac Mgaiwa and Busy Tsabola will appear in court after finalising paperwork to answer charges of theft and vandalism of government property under ESCOM custody.

In August — as the country was experiencing massive power load shedding due to loss of 130 megawatts at Kapichira Hydro Power Station due to Cyclone Ana in January, ESCOM bemoaned rising cases of vandalism that compromised power supply.

The power lost at Kapichira Hydro Power Station is 32% of the national grid and on top of loss of infrastructure is due to vandalism of it national power grid lines.

At a media engagement on issues emerging in the energy sector, ESCOM’s public relations officer, Peter Kanjere described the vandalism as a major setback as by then over 400 transformers were lost across the country due to vandalism.

The transformers are very costly to replace them since one costs around K4 million and ESCOM needs about K2 billion every year to replace vandalised transformers and other equipment.

Kanjere disclosed at the engagement with the media that every month they were losing an average of 5 transformers and went on to plead with the general public to safeguard ESCOM infrastructure because once they are tampered with, it affects the whole economy.

In June, when ESCOM disclosed that power that went off the national grid on June 18 was due to vandalism, Malawians took to social media to condemn this development being done by some unscrupulous people.

Initially, ESCOM had thought it was just a technical fault in which 100 megawatts of power went off the national grid before establishing that it was due to vandalism on its power line from Nkula Hydro Power Station to Blantyre.

Immediately ESCOM’s Chief Executive Officer, Kamkwamba Kumwenda held an impromptu press conference where he explained that the saboteurs had cut off about 100 meters of its line at Kameza in Blantyre and went away with it, which caused a major system disturbance.

Thus the affected part of the grid resulted in tripping off of the affected line as well as the generating machines, resulting in system collapse.

That incident of national blackout — which lasted about three hours — was the 5th since January this year and a leaked internal communication indicated that the vandalised equipment included massive conductor on Nkula A Blantyre 66kV overhead line on Structure 56 at Kameza.

Meanwhile, ESCOM security employees are on serious patrol around vulnerable areas to combat vandalism, which itself is a costly exercise.

On social media, people believed that such kind of vandalism of 66kV overhead line can only be done by an expert and strongly suspect that such saboteurs could be disgruntled former staff that were unceremoniously dismissed.

One commentator on social media observed that such nationwide black has taken place three of four times in past 3 months of June, and in suspecting that this was just some sabotage, the equipment vandalised were left behind.

“The conductors that ESCOM says were vandalized were left behind because they were of no use to an individual — that’s why I suspect that this is sabotage of highest order, which to me tantamount as treason,” said the commentator.

Another observed that after tripping the major power line, and once the line was out under the national blackout, they go on to steal power line cables — indicating that “this could only have been done by insider” adding the question: “Where does one get the knowledge on how to trip a major power line?”

It was also reported that on June 12, a similar vandalism took place in Rumphi — thus the the suspicion strongly pointing at some recently fired, who are disgruntled and are hitting back.

Elia Hawkins Phiri observed that its dangerous to come into close contact of a main power line that can transmit 10,000 volts with Canaan Kumwenda strongly opining that these saboteurs can’t be anyone else but a disgruntled ESCOM employees.

The consensus from the public is that ESCOM should get on the ground seriously and monitor the recently fired members of staff and once caught should face the law.

He said: As a nation we should not tolerate this type of behavior. It’s abhorrent and ESCOM needs to do a thorough investigation and culprits ought to be severely punished with life imprisonment.”

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