Zamba implicated in fuel fraud allegations

Former acting chief executive officer of (NOCMA) Helen Buluma has revealed that Secretary to the President and Cabinet  (SPC) Colleen Zamba mounted pressure on her to corruptly offer fuel contracts to suppliers favoured by Zamba, including a Nigerian only identified as Chief.

She made the revelations this afternoon when she appeared before the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament.

According to Buluma, at the height of the fuel crisis, some people came forward trying to supply fuel as they thought the problem was with suppliers when actually the problem was lack of forex in Malawi.

Buluma said Zamba, who is also NOCMA board chairperson, in September sent her a profile of a South Africa based company called Iconic Venture and another one called Iconic so that NOCMA could review if they could be taken on board amid the fuel crisis in Malawi.

Zamba later introduced Buluma to a person called Chief, a representative of a South African company,  whom she said would help Malawi to deal with the fuel situation.

Chief then contacted Buluma asking for specification on quality and quantity of fuel that Malawi needed.

“A couple of days later, Chief sent documents requiring me to sign. The documents were agreements that if I had signed I would be committing NOCMA to be procuring products from Chief. I did not sign the documents.

“But I advised Zamba that hiring fuel suppliers requires appropriate public procurement processes,” said  Buluma.

According to NOCMA, when government secured a US$50 million loan from BADEA for fuel procurement, Zamba advised her again to ensure that Chief’s company benefitted from the funds.

She sent me a message saying  “Za Chief zili pati mpakana ndalamayo mumaliza yonse kupereka (Where are we on the deal with Chief’s deal, you will finish the fuel funds without clinching a deal with Chief).”

Buluma expressed concerns that she was being pressurized to sign contracts agreed elsewhere without following procurement procedures.

Buluma also revealed that  further influence from Zamba involved a government to government arrangement which President Lazarus Chakwera initiated in the United Arab Emirates. Under the deal, NOCMA would have purchased fuel on cheaper terms from Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

According to Buluma, she was already holding discussions on the deal with Abu Dhabi Oil Company’s CEO and his team and the Abu Dabhi agreement was supposed tot take a short time for the two sides to reach a deal.

However, Zamba brought in a woman identified as Evalister Kamwangala and other brokers thus putting three layers between NOCMA and Abu Dhabi Oil Company.

“When I did research, I was concerned that this could be money laundering because we have brokers from Kenya and India intercepting a government to government deal,” said Buluma.

She also expressed disappointment that the Abu Dhabi which could have helped resolve the fuel crisis in Malawi was intercepted by brokers with the help of Zamba.  

“It was a disappointment for me and this is one of the reasons that I decided that I could not continue working at NOCMA,” said Buluma.

She further revealed that a meeting was held on 13 November where a new supplier called GY & Sons was discussed.

The SPC at the meeting insisted that Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) should declare a fuel emergency to allow NOCMA to take on board new fuel suppliers.

Buluma said she opposed the idea of declaring a fuel emergency because NOCMA expected the fuel situation to improve starting on 14 November. However, she was shut down and Zamba told her to proceed with arrangements to hire new suppliers.

Buluma realised that the emergency procurement was aimed at bringing new fuel suppliers through the backdoor.

According to Buluma, after that meeting on 13 November she decided to resign from NOCMA.

“So I wrote my resignation which I sent via WhatsApp and via email,” says Buluma  

Reacting to the allegations, Member of Parliament for Thyolo Thava Mary Thom Navicha  proposed the immediate suspension of Secretary to the President and Cabinet Colleen Zamba.  

Zamba was expected to also appear before the parliamentary committee but she did not show up.