…for defying her orders to give Kamwamba Power Project to Jindall
…. Board dissolved for the same reasons
Colleen Zamba is undoubtedly the most powerful woman in President Lazarus Chakwera’s Government, perhaps at time more than the president, that she can fire anybody who disagrees with her. The Electricity Generation Company (EGENC0) both the Board of Directors and its Management have learned the hard way- they have both been sacked.
Zamba cracked the whip on the Board first after it defied her order to give back Kammwamba Coal Power Project to the Ministry of Energy, which had earmarked Jindall to take over and implement it. EGENCO Chief Executive Officer William Liabunya seemed to have agreed in his conversation with Secretary for Energy Alfonso Chikuni, only to send a long letter from the Board, essentially telling the Ministry off.
The Ministry and EGENCO have been fighting over the secondment of some senior officials who are said to be connected to Zamba, who came to understudy Liabunya to take over from him.
SPC Zamba has been at the centre of appointments, placing her personal loyalists in all key government ministries and is in total control of the National Oil Company of Malawi (NOCMA) where she fired acting Chief Executive Officer Hellen Buluma for failing to comply with her directive to award a contract to her friend Chief Obinna Amucheinwa a Nigerian dobadoba who has been working with Zamba to get plum contracts.
“Even Mama Cecelia Kadzamira was not this powerful to make all appointments and hire and fire anyone at her beckon. You disagree with her, even on procedure that is the end. She fired Martha Chizuma, she fired Hellen Buluma, she dissolved EGENCO Board, now she is firing its management.
Zamba and Chikuni have also been at loggerheads with Electricity Commission of Malawi (ESCOM) who threw out their insistence to give a Power Purchase Agreement, irregularly done by Chikuni which is now under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
Despite citing the responses to Cyclones by EGENCO, the real reasons of flexing of power by Zamba and Chikuni hinge on a power project and strange secondment of senior staff to EGENCO.
Fight for Kammwamba Thermal Power Project, K5 billion spent by EGENCO
On 17 May 2023, Secretary for Energy Alfonso Chikuni wrote to EGENCO CEO William Liabunya in a letter referenced as MOE/ADMIN/20/1 which had its subject as “Repossession of the Kammwamba Coal Fired Power Project” giving the company 13 days to handover a project it has been developing for years.
“As you are aware, the country is over dependent on hydropower, and that all major hydro power plants are located on Shire River. This poses a security risk in terms of power generation and supply as the plants are prone to hydrological risk and, of late, devastating cyclones such as Cyclones Idai and Ana among others,” said Chikuni in his letter.
Chikuni said in line with Malawi’s energy policy of 2018, the government was keen to diversify the energy sources both in terms of technology and location of power plants to reduce the risks associated with hydropower stations.
“The country needs to move with speed in utilising this technology- a case in point being the successful implementation of the 300MW Kammwamba Coal-Fired Power Station Project. However, the Ministry feels that this coal project might may take time to be implemented due to the Public Private Partnership (PPP) financing model it has taken,” said Chikuni.
The PS then said the Ministry, which did not own the project in the first place, wanted to repossess the project and give it to an independent power producer to fast track the development.
According to Energy officials close to Chikuni, the project would have been given to Jindall and Indian firm that was developing power plants to support its projects in neighbouring Mozambique.
“EGENCO is hereby requested to officially handover the Feasibility Study Report and the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) Study report for the project to the Government through this Ministry. EGENCO is advised to follow due process to withdraw from the Public Private Partnership Commission. It will be much appreciated if this whole process is completed by 31 May 2023,” ordered Chikuni.
Chikuni justified his action explaining that the study reports were done using public funds and they had a lifeline which would expire soon and that it was appropriate to deliver to those that could implement it.
“My interest was purely to see Malawi gain energy,” insisted Chikuni in an earlier interview.
He disputed unconfirmed allegations that Jindall was offering some “Tithe” for the project.
Chikuni said Jindall withdraw from Malawi and went into Mozambique due to delays on the project.
“That matter is closed,” he said at the time.
However, the stage was set as new people had been seconded to EGENCO and someone reported them to Ombudsman.
The second issue that has resurfaced months after the Jindall matter is the secondment of Director of Operations Dr Maxon Chitawo and Director of Planning and Development Dr Gregory Gamula. The Office of Ombudsman received a complaint that the two were recruited without following procedures.
According to a letter to the Ombudsman to Liabunya dated the 2nd of October 2023, the two came in February 2023 without following recruitment procedures.
Dr. Chitawo was based at Mzuzu University while Dr Gamula was at Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences.
“The key anomaly is the fact that secondment letters were signed by PS Department of Human Resources and Development Mr. Chilabade. Mr Chilabade is for Civil Service and the Department of Statutory Corporations deals with parastatals. They were in a hurry to instil their people. Its illegal,” said one of the complainants to the Ombudsman.
However, this did not deter Zamba and Chikuni from appointing Dr Chitawo as Acting Chief Executive Officer after suspending Liabunya.
Who suspended Liabunya and Mrs Mluwira
On 3rd October 2023, Secretary to the Treasury McDonald Mafuta Mwale wrote to Liabunya and Director of Corporate Services and Company Secretary Videlia Mluwira asking them to leave office pending forensic audit of EGENCOs response of Cyclone.
Interestingly, after dissolving the board, someone gave themselves wide reaching powers to suspend two senior Managers and effectively provide their replacements.
“Zamba and Chikuni made the decision to fire the two. Then they realised they had no powers to fire anyone as ex-officio members. They asked Secretary to Treasury as main shareholder to sign it. But EGENCO is a limited liability company. Even shareholders cant fire anyone, it doesn’t work that way. These two are acting strange,” a legal mind suggested.
Zamba and Chikuni shot themselves on the foot as they fired the Board.
Liabunya and Mluwira have since obtained an injunction to stay in office, making life tough for the Secretary to the President and Cabinet.
Is Zamba the new Prime Minister
Malawians have questioned why SPC Zamba is such a powerful individual within Chakwera’s administration with some speculating “a closer” relationship between the President and his Secretary.
The Investigator Magazine can reveal that Zamba bankrolled the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) during its years in opposition and she has not made a secret out of it, telling those who question her grip of power that she helped Chakwera to be where he is.
“Since Mama Kadzamira, she is the first powerful lady in Malawi. Even President Chakwera can’t do anything about her. You should not be surprised when she becomes a cabinet minister. The President is powerless against her,” said a senior MCP official.
Zamba’s arbitrary control of the Malawi Public Service is only rivalled by John Ngwiri under Kamuzu Banda and former SPCs like Birght Msaka who was longest serving SPC would only wonder what magic she posses to literally run the country like a Prime Minister.
“She is the Prime Minister, she is the head of Government, even the cabinet answers to her not the President. NOSbody can question her decisions. She has appointed half of Government while President Chakwera is sleeping on the job. The parastatals should accept laws don’t apply to Zamba. Buluma and Liabunya are classic examples,” said a senior State House official.