Ombudsman to probe Escom fuel theft case

The Office of the Ombudsman is set to probe the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) over the missing 4.2 million litres of fuel meant for diesel-powered generators that the power utility body hired from Aggreko Limited to reduce prolonged power outages.

The fuel was meant for Aggreko generators

Escom has since said it will comply with the investigations.

A letter sent to Escom dated December 18 2018, signed by Ombudsman Martha Chizuma states that her office has in recent months been observing a public outcry on Escom’s alleged irregularities and mismanagement of the fuel.

She said her office is aware the development resulted in the loss of 4.2 million litres of fuel procured with public funds which to date cannot be accounted for.

Said Chizuma: “It is my office’s considered view that loss of such a huge amount of fuel cannot happen without systematic and administrative failures within Escom. My office’s mandate demands that the loss be properly investigated and appropriate remedies put in place.

“This letter, therefore, serves to notify you that in accordance with the legal mandate under both the Constitution and the Ombudsman Act, my office has decided to properly investigate this issue.”

The Ombudsman said to ensure that the investigation proceeds as effectively as possible, her office has asked Escom to nominate a senior person within the institution who is familiar with the issue and with authority to speak on behalf of the organisation to liaise with her office by January 11 2019.

Reacting to the development, Escom chief executive officer Allexon Chiwaya, in a letter that we have seen dated December 19 2018, assured the Ombudsman that they will comply with the investigation.

“Thank you for your letter dated 18 December, 2018. We will comply with the directive by sending our director of system and market operator to appear before you not later than 11th January, 2018,” reads the letter from Chiwaya.

Currently, the police and the National Audit Office are also investigating the matter.

Asked whether the Ombudsman’s fresh probe is not duplication of efforts, considering these are all public institutions, Chizuma said the delays of the two institutions to release findings has forced her office to conduct swift and independent investigations.

She said: “Legally, the only thing that can stop my office from conducting an investigation into this is if the matter is being handled by the courts. No court is currently handling the alleged loss of 4.2 million litres of fuel. So, legally there is nothing to stop us.”

On the issue of other government institutions looking into the same matter, she said the Ombudsman office’s is looking at the injustice suffered by Malawians as a result of the alleged mismanagement. 

“You should appreciate that it has taken us a long time to come into this issue because we were trying to observe what other institutions are doing. But three or four months down the line, we have observed some gaps and these are what we are trying to fill. Our approach puts the Malawian at the centre of it. What injustice has been suffered? That is what determines the rest of the investigation,” she said.

She said her office has an investigation plan in place and if the investigations reveal criminal wrongdoing,  the Ombudsman will refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions for the prosecution while if it is administrative wrongdoing, proper directives such as dismissal or other action will also be issued.

“If we find systemic failures within Escom, again we will direct system rectification,” Chizuma said.

Towards the end of last year, Escom entered into an emergency power supply agreement with Aggreko Limited to produce at least 78 megawatts of electricity using diesel-powered generators for sale to Escom.

Since revelations of fuel theft were made in August this year,  only one driver, three security guards and a stores clerk in Lilongwe have been arrested and are currently on bail.

Escom says it is still investigating how the fuel could have been stolen between the point of loading at National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) and the generators at the three sites of Chichiri, Kanengo and Chinyama in Kasungu.

A report of the 4.2 million litres theft compiled by the Escom head of security indicates that the company suspects collusion between drivers, fuel attendants, guards and Aggreko staff.

Chiwaya said action will be taken once investigations into the matter have been completed.

The office of the Ombudsman was created under Section 120 of the Republican Constitution with a mandate to investigate injustices suffered by Malawians as a result of abuse of power, unfair treatment and unjust omission and exercise of duties by public officials or bodies.

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