President Peter Mutharika’s appointment of Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara as board chairperson of Egenco has sparked debate on its merit.
Lewis Dzimbiri, a professor in public administration and management at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi (Unima), argued in an interview yesterday that policy guidance and control, in the case of Electricity Generation Company (Egenco), should be under an independent official.
His sentiments follow the announcement last week by the Chief Secretary of a seven-member board for Egenco alongside four individuals and ex-officio members, including Secretary to the Treasury.
Said Dzimbiri: “Theoretically, the policy guidance and control role ought to be in the hands of an independent official and the Chief Secretary ought to function as an ex-officio member.
“There are several typical examples of this nature in the Malawi public administrative system.”
The Chief Secretary also chairs the board of the National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma), a government entity established to manage strategic fuel reserves and import a share of fuel into the country.
Egenco was established following the gazetting of the Electricity (Amendment) Act which split Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) into two separate entities, one for distribution and another for generation and transmission.
The Electricity (Amendment) Act which Parliament passed last June opened up the energy sector to independent power producers (IPPs) and effectively ended Escom’s monopoly as the sole feeder to the national power grid.
Dzimbiri further said objectivity, integrity, leading above the line and other universalistic values among position holders were the key to good governance.
But corporate governance expert Anthony Mukumbwa differed with the view that accountability would be a challenge considering that government was the shareholder of Egenco and mandated to appoint its staff to be directors and board chairperson.
He said: “In accordance with corporate governance provisions, there is nothing wrong for the President to appoint the Chief Secretary to be chairperson of Egenco.”
Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi, who is the official government spokesperson, said the Chief Secretary was board chairperson to demonstrate that power generation is the priority of government.
He explained that the Chief Secretary would continue to be chairperson for the next one to two years to ensure close supervision of generation and distribution of electricity in the country as one way of encouraging foreign direct investment.
Said Dausi: “For a short while, the Egenco management will be reporting directly to the Chief Secretary. The challenges on objectivity and accountability will not arise.
“The government would just like to demonstrate the zeal it has to achieve the priority by leaving it close to the government for one to two years and later if there is improvement, it will go back to others to manage.”
Ironically, other players in the energy sector, notably Escom and Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) are not chaired by the Chief Secretary.
In his capacity, the Chief Secretary is the head of the civil service and parastatals, including Egenco and Nocma, report to his office through the Department of Statutory Corporations.
Muhara could not be reached for comment as his phone went unanswered after several attempts.