Talking Blues: Behold, the king!

Defying questionable advice from the Attorney General (AG), Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee (Pac) went ahead to hear Ms Helen Buluma’s side of the NOCMA imbroglio.
To unravel the ‘Buluma resignation / fired puzzle’, PAC summoned Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC) Colleen Zamba and former acting chief executive officer for the National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) Hellen Buluma.
The genesis was a paradoxical “You are fired!” versus “I quit” drama that panned out between the ‘firing’ institution – NOCMA – and the ‘dismissed’ person – Ms Buluma. Reading between the lines, this was just a red herring. Of real interest were Ms Buluma’s purported reasons for ‘resigning’.
Attending the hearing like any law-abiding tax-payers money paid public servant should do, Ms Buluma made several startling revelations.
She fingered Nocma Board Chair and SPC Colleen Zamba as having been pressuring her to sign fuel supply deals she deemed suspect. She also alleged that some senior government officials were proposing unorthodox and possibly illegal solutions to the fuel crisis that recently hit the country.
At one meeting at Capital Hill, she said, some hombre introduced a company called GY and Sons and the meeting shockingly discussed “how to share profits”.
She further claimed that some fuel brokers, allegedly sent by Ms Zamba, were trying to insert themselves as middlemen in an already negotiated fuel deal between Malawi Government and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
She cited a shady Nigeria-based broker only known as “Chief” and a South Africa-based motivational speaker Evarista Kamwangala as examples.
She added that “Chief”, introduced to her by Ms Zamba, was a character and a half who dared forward documents for 700SA Oil and Gas Company for her to sign without any terms attached, akin to asking her to sign a blank cheque!
All the while, Buluma claimed, she kept reminding the SPC that her proposed actions were unprocedural and illegal.
Buluma did not stop there.
She further expounded how Kamwangala wanted to intercept the fuel support financing deal the President had negotiated in Dubai on his way from the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Buluma further claimed that another company called Yield came in supposedly to be financiers despite the fact the deal was initially supposed to be between Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Nocma.
Buluma informed the Committee that Ms Zamba even arranged a meeting with Kamwangala and ‘Chief’ in her boardroom at the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), where despite being strongarmed to sign documents without due process, she refused.
She also claimed she was asked to travel to Dubai and sign some fuel contracts, but she found a pretext not to go, fearing involvement in a money laundering scam.
Speaking to the media, Mr Chikuni – the PS for the Ministry of Energy, has since described Buluma’s allegations as “atrocious” and added that she fed the Committee half-baked versions to advance her own agenda. He argued that all the meetings he attended were recorded and challenged people to check the minutes (without providing those minutes).
Please note that while Buluma was speaking and responding to follow-up questions under oath, Chikuni was talking to a newspaper.
Now, let us unpack this stuff.
You may recall that a former senior minister, a ranking presidential aide and a leader of one of Tonse Alliance partners are answering a corruption-related case on the same fuel supply issue. You may also recollect that when investigating that case, President Lazarus Chakwera’s name popped up, which led to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) adding the President as a person of interest, and he was duly grilled.
Before I proceed, bearing in mind the gravity of both the allegations and the issue at hand, allow me to digress and speak about the Latin maxim Audi alteram partem. Literally translated, this means: “Listen to the other side” or “let the other side also be heard”.
This principle requires that each party has the right to and must be granted an opportunity to be heard. In this case, we have heard from Ms Buluma, under oath and from Mr Chikuni, not under oath. We are yet to hear from many others mentioned.
Therefore, despite Ms Buluma’s sworn testimony, I will remark no further about the rest. However, I cannot extend the same courtesy to Ms Zamba because she was invited to Parliament. Hiding behind the AG’s contestable advice, she ill-advisedly opted not to go, thereby missing an opportunity to tell her “truth”.
That said, I see three disturbing issues. Ms Zamba’s interference in matters that technocrats should deal with is the first. This, however, is the least of our concerns.
More concerning is what I see as an attempt to blackmail a senior technocrat into breaking the law.  I am saying this because now that we have seen how easy it was for NOCMA to “fire” Buluma, what was all that jazz after the Ombudsman’s determination? Why did Ms Zamba refuse to fire Buluma then?
I posit that it is because either:
(a) Buluma knew too much and couldn’t be trusted to stay mum, and /or,
(b) the SPC thought that Buluma, full of gratitude for not being fired, would be as obedient as a puppet and willy-nilly award contracts to the likes of “Chief”, happily mingle and hobnob with the Eva Kamwangalas of this world and, while at it, enthusiastically participate in meetings where “sharing of profits” among other thieveries were at the core of the agenda.
There is a third possible reason. One could argue that since Ms Zamba reports directly to the President, the President had directed her to retain Ms Buluma at all costs. The question would be, WHY?
And herein lies the gravest of my concerns: I have alluded to the ongoing fuel supply corruption case involving the President’s men in which, although ACB interviewed the President, we were made to understand there was no there-there.
Now look here: about two years later, here we are again, discussing fuel, allegations of malfeasance and corruption, with the Office of the President at the centre of it all.
When the Office of the President or the President himself is mentioned once in fuel supply-related corruption, we can write it off as a one-off incident. But when this high office is embroidered twice, it is time for us to get concerned.
What’s more?
1) the President’s party MPs refusing to join their colleagues in the Public Appointments Committee,
2) the AG penning a dubious opinion to frustrate the hearing and,
3) Ms Zamba still holding on to her position as SPC (at the time I am writing this),
what’s to stop enterprising minds from concluding – rightly or wrongly – that in Plot Number One, we now have a king – not a prince – but the king of thieves?

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