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Helen Buluma finally leaves Nocma

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BULUMA— I have not
seen the said letter

Government has finally succumbed to growing pressure to remove Hellen Buluma from National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma), where she was acting chief executive officer (CEO).

The decision comes almost a month after Ombudsman Grace Malera determined that Buluma’s recruitment as deputy CEO at Nocma was irregular and unprocedural.

She recommended that she be relieved of her duties.

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But Nocma Board Chair, Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC) Colleen Zamba, in a hard-hitting response, rejected Malera’s determination.

She said in the letter that the Nocma board had actually made Buluma acting CEO until December after the expiry of her contract as deputy CEO in August this year.

But there has been growing discontent from some people since Nocma Board took this position, in part because Zamba’s response was inconsistent with the law, which stipulates that the Ombudsman’s determination can only be challenged through court.

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Wednesday, government buckled.

But there are questions as to who acted first between Zamba and Buluma.

In the morning, sources at the Office of the President and Cabinet told The Daily Times that a decision had been made to fire Buluma, and that a letter to that effect had been processed.

Less than 40 minutes later, Buluma’s resignation letter, dated November 14 2022, went viral.

An hour or so later, Zamba’s letter, dated September 15 2022, and addressed to Buluma, also circulated on social media, announcing termination of her contract.

In her letter, Zamba said the decision was in compliance with the earlier determination of the Ombudsman.

The SPC said her office had obtained alternative advice from Attorney General (AG) Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda to undertake the Ombusdman’s determination even if someone was in disagreement with it.

“Consequently, I regret to inform you that you have been relieved from [sic] your duties effective immediately in compliance with the Ombudsman’s determination,” the letter reads.

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 an interview with The Daily Times, Minister of Information and Digitalisation Gospel Kazako said the Nocma Board has 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.

“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’s direction be followed,” Kazako said.

Buluma authenticated contents of her resignation letter in an interview, in which she also said she had not yet received the letter from the board firing her.

“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 this afternoon,” Buluma said.

In her resignation letter, addressed to Zamba, Buluma accuses Zamba and Principal Secretary for Energy Alfonso Chikuni of interfering with the operations of Nocma, especially in the award of fuel supply contracts.

She claims that the SPC and Chikuni have in recent months been giving her what she calls “undue pressure” to bring on board new suppliers of fuel and financiers without following procedures.

She alleges that, on several occasions, she has tried to engage Zamba and guide her on what the right procedures were in the fuel business but the SPC has not been listening.

She even mentions a list of companies which she claims Zamba and Chikuni have been favouring to be awarded contracts in a manner that she says breaches provisions of the Public Finance Management Act, Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act and other legal frameworks.

We asked her why she did not report the said attempts to law enforcement agencies such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau, to which she said, at the appropriate time, she would be able to do so.

The developments drew the attention of Parliament. Among those who commented on the issue is Leader of Opposition Kondwani Nankhumwa, who asked Energy Minister Ibrahim Matola to clarify issues surrounding Buluma’s departure.

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