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Attack first

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Nothing, not even experience, would have prepared Malawians for what happened on Wednesday.

At a time fuel supplies are running short, it hit me as ironic that the National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma), of all companies in this land of the lake, was the institution to ‘supply’ us with news— read, ‘news’, and not petroleum products— that left us more puzzled than satisfied.

But, then, that is only the one side of the equation.

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On the other hand was the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), which houses Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC) Colleen Zamba, which served as the supplier of more incomprehensible news in relation to the same.

From both sides came reports that were incomplete, as far as I am concerned.

But, then, nothing has made sense these past eleven months of 2022.

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Come to think of it. We had the Reserve Bank of Malawi misreporting case with the International Monetary Fund that created fear in those who wish this country well.

The fear was premised on the fact that, if the International Monetary Fund were to crack the whip on Malawi for whatever wrong it did, or did not commit, it was the poor of the poorest that would have borne the brunt of that decision.

But, just as the fear appeared, it disappeared, thanks to Finance Minister Sosten Gwengwe’s announcement that the Bretton Woods institution has taken heed of Malawi’s lamentations, pleadings and what have you.

Well, after the Democratic Progressive Party claimed on its Facebook page that the fund had no issues with Malawi in the first place, I am left confused.

Yes, as confused as can be.

So, we have had two confusing developments during a confusing 48 hours.

Anyway, I choose to dwell on the most confusing thing of them all; the Nocma deputy chief executive officer (CEO) Hellen Buluma and SPC Zamba issue.

I am confused because I do not know what came first; Buluma’s resignation or the firing.

I say so because, almost a month after Ombudsman Grace Malera determined that Buluma’s recruitment as deputy CEO at Nocma was irregular and unprocedural, there were signs that SPC would go its own way, other than the Ombudsman way.

I base this on the fact that the SPC, in a hard-hitting response, rejected Malera’s determination. In fact, Zamba indicated, in the hard-hitting letter, that Malawians would see Buluma a thousand more times because, in fact, the Nocma board had made Buluma acting CEO until December after the expiry of her contract as deputy CEO in August this year.

Even when the Malawi Human Rights Commission, as well as civil society organisations, urged the Executive to respect the Ombudsman’s determination, the government did not buckle.

The picture portrayed was that the Tonse Alliance administration does not care about the rule of law, let alone the Ombudsman’s office.

It gave the impression that its leaders are stubborn; know-it-alls who are there to serve their own interests and nothing more.

In so doing, they made Malawians resign to fate.

Now, following confusion over who fired who first or resigned first, it is as if Buluma has shown her employers that she is the one who is in charge— in charge of the situation and in charge of her destiny.

This [Buluma’s action], Dear Pain, must be a thorn in the government’s flesh.

As I like to say, some pains are self inflicted.

Just that, in this case, it is not just officials at OPC and Nocma who felt pangs of the self-inflicted pain; officials at the Ministry of Information and Digitisation felt it, too.

No wonder, amid circulation of the two letters, the Ministry of Information and Digitalisation issued a statement arguing that Buluma’s resignation letter came after she had already been relieved of her duties.

In fact, Minister of Information and Digitalisation Gospel Kazako added that the Nocma Board— and not Buluma—had acted within the law.

“This also means that Nocma has the ability and grace to accept a different view from theirs; in this case they have agreed with advice from the AG [Attorney General]. There are always different pieces of advice and there are always changes that can be made. At this point, the best decision and direction is that the Ombudsman direction be followed,” Kazako said.

But, then, Buluma had her own version of the story. She said: “Yes, I have resigned effective November 14. I have not seen the said letter because as we speak, I was on call with the SPC this morning and she asked me to organise a board meeting for this afternoon.”

Well, not even provisions of the Access to Information Act can save Malawians from the confusion that is in the air now.

Lesson: Sometimes, the best way to defend is to attack, no matter how much the pain.

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