Now this is getting very interesting. The quasi-religious body, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), wants Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC) Zanga-Zanga Chikhosi fired for, among other reasons, incompetence. This call is on President Lazarus Chakwera since he is the one who appoints the SPC. But before the President fires Chikhosi, assuming he will, the man sitting at the head of the Civil Service, wielding so much power, wants to be the first to pull the trigger.
This week, he authored a letter to the Chairperson for the Parliamentary Appointments Committee of Parliament advising it that government had decided to remove the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) Board on ground of incompetence.
Before we get to the substantive issues, let’s look at the small ones. On February 18 2022, the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament pens the SPC allegedly complaining about Mera Board, that it is incompetent. On the same day, February 18 2022, the SPC writes back to the Parliamentary Appointment Committee not just acknowledging receipt of the letter but with a bomb of a response.
That the mighty government had decided to remove the Mera Board for incompetence. What is most interesting here is the lightning speed at which OPC, which is referred to here as government, arrived at the decision that Mera Board should be fired “considering the poor handling of the recruitment of the Mera CEO.
Now if that was how OPC operates, the public service would be one of the most efficient entities. No one in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) would be sleeping on the job as many are doing now. Every officer, from SPC down to the cleaner, would be on their toes at all times. But nay such responsiveness is next to nonexistent in the mainstream public service. So what were the undercurrents?
I reckon these are the issues the Mera Board chairperson Mr Leonard Chikadya is talking about when he says the story is bigger than the matter about the recruitment of the Mera CEO. Now this is intriguing.
Chikhosi says in the letter to PAC chairperson that Section 8 of the Energy Regulation Act requires that PAC should hold an inquiry and upon satisfying itself approve the removal of the Mera Board. In light of this, PAC invites Mera Board to a meeting scheduled for today or tomorrow. But Chikadya says Mera Board already appeared before a PAC inquiry immediately after the matter of the Ombudsman report related to recruitment of Mera CEO was leaked to social media. The outcome of that inquiry under PAC, according to Chikadya, is that PAC did not find any grounds to remove Mera, a decision that was duly communicated to Mera Board. An injured Chikadya now has nothing to hide, and says: “It is clear that the story here is bigger than the recruitment of Mera CEO. He says several issues led to the SPC’s decision (to now want to remove Mera Board), including that of the Mera Board’s decision to refuse to approve fuel tender contracts for the National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) which is chaired by the SPC.
One thing is clear. Either Mera Board chairperson or the SPC is lying. Not both of them can be saying the truth. My gut feeling is that the SPC is the one standing on shifting sand. The SPC is trying to hit back at the Mera Board for embarrassing him as chairperson for Nocma. He wants to use or abuse his other powers as head of the public service to show he has power to mincemeat the entire Mera Board.
This is why, as many have argued before, it is wrong for the SPC, as head of the public service, to chair parastatal organisations. There is a huge conflict of interest in doubling as SPC and chairing a parastatal board. The SPC also chairs the Energy Generation Company board. It is a wrong inherited from the Peter Mutharika administration when the former Chief Secretary Lloyd Muhara also chaired both Nocma and Egenco. Now this is a matter President Chakwera whose Tonse administration promised to clear the rubble, would do well to intervene in and do so fast. At the end of the day, it is his name that this whole issue is dragging in the mad. The buck stops with him.
Chikadya has said the fuel tender contracts for Nocma is only one of the several issues that have led to the furore between SPC and the Mera Board. I am now waiting with baited breath to know the other issues. No wonder PAC is also baying for his blood.