ESCOM bullied over K600bn contract

…approve or be fired

..AG, Minister vs SPC, PS

Secretary to the President and Cabinet Colleen Zamba and Principal Secretary for Energy Alfonso Chikuni have partnered up to bully the state-owned Electricity Supply Commission of Malawi (ESCOM) over a multi-billion-kwacha power purchase agreement in favour of controversial Nigerian businessman “Chief” Obinna G.C Amuchienwa.

Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda on 7th July 2023 blocked award of any new Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) and days later, ESCOM Board Chaired by accountant Morgan Tembo threwout Chikuni’s bid to have a PPA for the “Chief” approved.

At stake is a 1000mw solar power plant which Chief promised to deliver 50mw  plant by December 2024. Escom Board doubts the credibility of the promise and if “Chief” has any financial muscle to deliver.

“The ESCOM Board was given the report from the team that went to do due diligence. It seems the American company Chief claims to be working with is credible, it is the involvement of “Chief” himself that is raising serious questions. It seems the SPC and PS gave assurances to him that this was a done deal,” said a senior Energy official on Wednesday.

Chikuni interfering in ESCOM work

Engineer Chikuni is being accused of stepping out of his mandate and interfering with Boards of ESCOM, EGENCO, and others which he is supposed to provide policy oversight and not actual projects as he has been doing.

“He and the SPC are dictating the Boards, threatening to fire them if they don’t do their bidding. He needs to understand that these parastatals are governed by their own rules and that he is merely an ex-official who is supposed to provide policy direction,” an ESCOM official narrated.

Chikuni is said to have communicated to the Board to reconsider their decision as the deal was “in public interest” to deliver electricity before the next general elections.

After the dissolution of Power Markets Limited (PML) , ESCOM resumed the role of negotiating and awarding PPA and the Board was not amused that the Ministry of Energy was usurping its legal powers when it signed a draft PPA with Chiefs company.

“The Board did not approve it because “Chief” is damaged goods. The public has a negative perception of any of his involvement. It looks like someone is trying to benefit. Look the Ministry signed a PPA without ESCOM and tried to push it through their throats. Threatening to dissolve the board is in bad taste. The SPC and PS look like they are desperate as if they have personal interest” charged a Board member.

Chikuni at the centre of the controversy

Thabo blocked “Chief” whilst Chikuni was in the USA

The Attorney General on 7 July 2023 wrote to ESCOM and told them they could no longer entertain new PPA applications whilst Chikuni, MERA boss Henry Kachaje and ESCOM Chief Kamkwamba Kumwenda were in the United States of America meeting “Chief.”

The government legal advisor who has been frequently criticised for making wrong legal decisions this time responded to the public interest and blocked what would be a controversial process as the Ministry of Energy has no role in PPAs.

“The Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda rose to the occasion and defended public interest, what the two are pushing is a non-starter. This deal should be closed, and Chief forgotten. Every attempt to bring him to do business in Malawi raises serious questions,” said another official.

Do not entertain new PPA applications – Chakaka told Escom board

State House’s Chibvunde running the Ministry

Ephraim Chibvunde, the political adviser to President Lazarus Chakwera, recently mentioned in connection to East Bridge Directors saga, also appears to have formed a triumvirate of himself, Zamba, and Chikuni to run affairs of the Ministry.

“The Minister is just a figurehead. He called for a meeting in July to advise the Ministry to adhere to what the Attorney General said. They defied him. They don’t tell him anything, he is just watching from the sidelines. Even the trip to USA he was told last minute,” said a Ministry of Energy official.

Minister of Energy Ibrahim Matola, coincidentally is Secretary General for the Peoples Party and Chibvunde who is named in different projects at the Ministry including the Kammwamba Coal Power plant whose story will publish this Sunday, is vice president for the South.

Matola did not respond to our WhatsApp and phone messages the whole of this week, giving us a blue tick.

This means Matola and Chakaka Nyirenda are now together with ESCOM Board against the wishes of the powerful Zamba whose outcome of the current impasse could tell how much power she yields over President Chakwera.

Chivunde also involved

Chikuni pleads for “Chiefs” waiver

On Tuesday, 1 August 2023 in a letter referenced as MOE/ADMIN/1/9 Engineer Chikuni wrote to the Attorney General titled, “Temporary Halt on Signing of Unsolicited IPPs:  Request for Waiver…”

Chikuni, in his claim, says Matola had received a request for approval from ESCOM Ltd to permit ACSG-Westlands Energy Power Consortium to proceed to do a full feasibility study stage and for ESCOM to negotiate for a PPA.

ESCOM Board, according to insiders, clearly refused to write to the AG when asked by Zamba and Chikuni and Minister Matola has had no business on the PPA, which means the Principal Secretary was making up the whole process to suit his agenda.

ESCOM officials were quoted on Friday by the Nation newspaper that they were adhering to Chakaka Nyirenda’s direction, while Chikuni four days earlier was telling the AG the company wanted a waiver on the PPA.

“I believe that the ACSG-Westland Consortium’s unique technology deserves a fair evaluation,” Chikuni pleads on behalf of the company in a leaked letter copied to Matola, ESCOM CEO and Deputy SPC Jane Banda who is Head of Presidential Delivery Unit.

The strange advocacy on behalf of the company and bypassing of ESCOM is raising questions on the vested interest in one company only and not the rest of the PPAs that are still outstanding but already approved.

“He has hijacked the whole ESCOM board which is illegal. Whatever he wrote in that letter is not from ESCOM. The Board refused. It is amusing to see the extent the PS can go to push for this particular company,” said another source.

Dr. Banda, in a response to Chikunis letter sent back to the Ministry the same day, asked Chikuni to call for a meeting with Zamba, Secretary to the Treasury Dr MacDonald Mafuta Mwale, Chakaka Nyirenda and Public Procurement and Disposal Authority (PPDA) to discuss his request.

Chikuni in an earlier interview said his interest is to bring electricity into the country and nothing more.

Battles in the energy sector

There are intense fights within the energy sector, which different government agencies and their Heads are fighting for control of contracts and Zamba, who was accused by former NOCMA boss Hellen Buluma of trying to cut corners in supply contracts is being mentioned again and again in other agencies.

On Sunday we will publish how Chikuni and Chibvunde are working hard to grab Kammwamba Coal Power Plant from state-owned EGENCO and give it to a private company said to have allegedly put a US$3 million reward for a successful grab.

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