Talking Blues: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it


According to reports, the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change has proposed sweeping changes to pave the way for the government to have 90 per cent control of fuel imports.

If implemented, the import quota on fuel for beleaguered State-owned National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) will rise to 90 per cent from 55 per cent whereas that of Petroleum Importers Limited (PIL), a consortium of private sector oil marketing companies, will shrink to 10 per cent share from its current 45 per cent.

Speaking during a meeting with officials from Ministry of Energy, Nocma, PIL, and other stakeholders in the petroleum industry in Lilongwe this week, committee chairperson Welani Chilenga indicated that his Committee is all for government control over fuel, saying:

“Fuel is a strategic commodity and, therefore, it should indeed be managed at all cost by the government. It should not be left in the hands of private operators.

“We stand by the recommendation that Nocma should import 90 per cent and private operators 10 per cent.

“We hope that you [Ministry of Energy] are going to do those modalities, and wherever it requires changing of laws, necessary steps should be taken.”

But PIL general manager, Mr Martin Msimuko, countered that such a move would be counterproductive and would negatively impact the private sector.

“If they push for 10 per cent, they will be closing PIL, which is a private sector contribution, and I believe that would not be in the interest of our government to stifle the private sector in the country,” he said.

Msimuko further argued that PIL, operating alongside Nocma, serves the nation well because, as you all know, there is no wisdom in putting all eggs in one basket. More importers spread the risks, hence mitigating the inherent risks.

By way of background, PIL was born in 1999 after Nocma’s predecessor, the now-defunct scandal-ridden State-owned Petroleum Control Commission (PCC), spectacularly flopped and cost the taxpayer billions.

Smarting from that bad experience, a decision was made to rope in the private sector to take over the fuel importation business.

PIL became the sole operator in the fuel importation business until someone came up with the Nocma idea.

Nocma was formed in 2010 under the Companies Act of 1984 with a mandate to manage a strategic fuel reserve facility and provide hospitality to new entrants at a fee to promote competition and upstream oil and gas exploration.

From the time Nocma started operations, the two have been complementing each other, giving us the much-needed cushion.

Now, reading the meeting proceedings, I am at pains to understand what solution increasing Nocma’s share offers.

In fact, from where I am standing, this seems to be a classical pursuit of ‘solutions’ in search of ‘problems’.

Look here, we have been down this road before, with disastrous results culminating in the defunct PCC closing shop.

Granted, at that time, we did not have the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) to keep the PCC in check. But then again, now that we have Mera, Nocma nor any governmental body should have a role in fuel importation.

Let me elaborate. The drama is still unfolding in the 2021-22 fuel importation saga where Mera, whose chairperson is Mr Leonard Chikadya, has been trying to reign in Nocma’s – for lack of a better word – romance with corruption.

Nocma, as everyone knows, has not been listening to anyone. If Nocma can brush aside an ACB Court Order, who is Mr Chikadya, whose very appointment was signed by the Secretary of President and Cabinet, the person who chairs Nocma Board?

Putting this differently, increasing Nocma’s import quota to 90% tantamounts to making the Office of President Cabinet a fuel procurement office, on top of all the other stuff whose leadership and execution are very much in supposition. The home, for instance, of the Covid19 abuse funds scandal, is that office.

To this scandal-prone background, add an incestuous relationship where the appointee – Mera Board – is supposed to oversee the appointing authority’s principal agent (i.e. the SPC).

Such arrangements hardly bolster transparency and accountability.

With Nocma holding a 50% quota in fuel imports, we are already witnessing worrisome signs of impunity; what will become of us when Nocma monopolises fuel importation?

I repeat: what exactly is the rationale behind this move?

My take? Someone wants to set up Nocma and, through it, the Office of President and Cabinet and ultimately our beloved but incurably naïve President Lazarus Chakwera to fail.

My advice to Parliament, the best solution this misguided Committee can offer is to stop poking its nose in the fuel importation business.

The ACB and Mera have that under control, plus too many cooks tend to spoil the broth.


Talking Blues Xtra: Justice at last, but still no light at the end of the tunnel

The High Court sentenced 21-year-old Frank Thonje and his accomplice Bonzo Chirwa, 57, to life imprisonment for the murder of Yasin Kwenda Phiri.

Yasin Kwenda Phiri was a 54-year-old man with Albinism; these two butchered, in the literal sense, on December 31 2018.

Reading out the sentence meted by Judge Dorothy DeGabriele, the same illustrious judge who sent Thomson Mpinganjira to jail, Judge Chimwemwe Kamowa said evidence that the offence was heinous was so compelling that the court had no choice but to mete out a stiff sentence.

To jog your memory, Yasin Phiri was stabbed twice in the stomach. Intestines dripping from his gut, he was dragged outside his house, had both his arms chopped off before his body was dumped in a nearby stream.

This ordeal played out in full view of his 12-year-old son.

”Looking at the evidence, as outlined in the judgement, the convicts deserve a substantial sentence… it is an order of the court that each convict is sentenced to life imprisonment,” Judge Chimwemwe Kamowa read, closing the matter.

While this somewhat consoles the relatives and family, I believe it is far from enough.

Sentencing these two will not end the woes of our brothers and sisters with Albinism because the buyer(s) – the masterminds to who these low-lives sold or intended to sell Yasin Kwenda’s body parts to – is roaming free.

Free to lure some other buffoons into abducting, maiming and killing the next victim.

My question is: once the Police had nabbed these two, how and why is the buyer difficult to apprehend to end the horrific killings once and for all?

Is it that there is more than meets the eye? Even after the change of government?

God help us