National blackout disrupts Parliament

 

Parliament failed to sit yesterday following a nationwide power outage and a fault in a backup generator that lights up the House in times of emergencies.

The power outage occurred at 13:45 hours, just 15 minutes before the start of the Wednesday sitting, which is conducted in the afternoon only.

As early as 2.10pm, some members of Parliament (MPs) started driving away from the Parliament Building while others loitered outside the chamber chatting and taking telephone calls.

Mulanje South West MP George Chaponda (R) chats with Mulanje Pasani legislator Angie Kaliati in the dark corridors of Parliament yesterday

The leadership of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) took advantage of the blackout to call its members to an impromptu caucus in the office of its chief whip, Lobin Lowe.

However, the darkness brought the two opposite sides of the House together as they chatted under the lights from tablets and mobiles.

Some members of the Peoples Party (PP), independent MPs and some government members, not bothered to leave the dark chamber, exchanged banter across the aisle, perhaps immune to the persistent power outages that have left no corner unaffected, including Parliament.

Leader of the House Kondwani Nankhumwa explained in an interview that a decision was made to adjourn the House to 9.30am today following a report from the Parliament secretariat that the generator had malfunctioned.

“Come tomorrow, we are hopeful that power will be restored and the problems to the generator will be fixed,” he said.

However, Nankhumwa said it would not be necessary to recover the amount of work lost by requesting an extension of the meeting as the Business Committee would allocate time before the House rises to deal with the business on yesterday’s Order Paper.

The first order of business for yesterday included a debate on the committee report from the Public Accounts Committee on the outstanding issues in the performance audit report on Viphya Plantations and debate on the Auditor General’s report on accounts of councils for the years 2009 and 2010.

Assistant Clerk of Parliament for Protocol and Public Relations Leonard Mengezi said Parliament Building had a 1.6 KVA standby generator which had developed a massive fault that could not be rectified in the short-term.

“It is a powerful generator but a certain part has been damaged. It is a big problem that could not be fixed today. The information I have is that we are looking to buy a completely new genset and in the meantime there will be smaller ones to power crucial sections of Parliament in times of blackouts,” he said.

In a brief interview, Minister of Energy Aggrey Masi confirmed that the nation was experiencing a national blackout which had not left out Parliament Building.

At the time of the interview, he did not have concrete information on what had caused the power outages.

But in a statement issued later in the evening, the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) apologised to consumers for a national power blackout that hit the country from 1.45pm yesterday.

Escom attributed the outage to a technical fault on its 132 kilovolts (kV) transmission lines from Nkula B Hydro-Electric Power Station to Golomoti Substation. Said Escom in the statement:

“The fault resulted in a disturbance that led to a total collapse of the system resulting in a national electricity blackout. The initial restoration took 1hour 13minutes and total system recovery was achieved by 17:06. Escom sincerely apologises for the inconvenience this may have caused. n

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