President Lazarus Chakwera Wednesday fired Energy Minister Newton Kambala and his adviser Chris Chaima Banda barely three days after they were arrested for allegedly interfering in National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) fuel importation contracts.
On Monday this week, Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) agents arrested Kambala, Alliance for Democracy president Enock Chihana and President Lazarus Chakwera’s Chief Adviser on Strategy and Manifesto Implementation Chris Chaima Banda.
Secretary to the President and Cabinet Zanga-Zanga Chikhosi indicated, in a statement issued Wednesday, that the President had adopted Kambala’s role.
“In exercise of the powers conferred upon him by Section 95(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, His Excellency the President, Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, has removed Honourable Newton Kambala from the Cabinet, as a Cabinet member, with effect from 11th August 2021.
“Following this change to the Cabinet, all ministerial powers, functions and responsibilities of the Ministry of Energy shall vest in and be exercised by His Excellency the President. Therefore all queries or matters requiring attention of the Ministry of Energy should be directed to the President and Cabinet,” Zanga-Zanga said.
In another statement, Chakwera’s Executive Assistant Sean Kampondeni said: “His Excellency has relieved Chris Chaima Banda of his position as Chief Adviser to the President on Strategy and Manifesto Implementation with immediate effect.”
After Chakwera axed Kambala Wednesday, the number of vacant posts in Cabinet has reached five. As at now, the Ministry of Transport has no senior minister, which is also the case with the ministries of Labour and Local Government.
The office of the Attorney General is also vacant.
Earlier this year, Human Rights Defenders Coalition Chairperson Gift Trapence called on Chakwera to fill vacant Cabinet posts.
“The position of senior minister is very important,” Trapence said, sentiments which Institute for Policy Interaction Executive Director Rafiq Hajat echoed.
University of Malawi political scientist Boniface Dulani also said political leadership complements the work of technocrats in ministries, hence the need to fill the vacant posts so that those occupying them could advance policies of the current administration.
The firing of Kambala comes after some civil society organisations called for his head on Tuesday.
Leading the calls was the National Anti-Corruption Alliance (Naca)—comprising Church and Society of the Livingstonia Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Youth and Society, Malawi Law Society and the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation—which on Tuesday asked Chakwera to fire Kambala and Chaima Banda.
In a statement which Naca Chairperson Moses Mkandawire signed, the alliance asked the President to show decisive leadership by firing the two to make way for effective investigations.
“The ACB investigation notwithstanding, the President should commit to an investigation into how such conduct is able to happen within inner circles of government. Considering the recent loans bill debacle, such an investigation should reflect on the recruitment and supervision of government officials and the policies and procedures which govern their conduct.
“It is a matter of grave concern that [the] minister and his [Chakwera’s] adviser are still in service…. Even though any person is innocent until proven guilty by a court of law, the failure to at least suspend these individuals pending resolution of the matter sends a negative signal about the President’s commitment to purge his administration of corruption.
“Therefore, the alliance calls upon President Chakwera to lead by example and not empty rhetoric on ending corruption, which is one of the pillars of his ‘Super Hi 5’, by sacking all ministers, advisers and officials involved in this scandal,” Mkandawire said.
On the day that Kambala, Chihana and Chaima Banda were arrested, State House Director of Communications Sean Kampondeni said Chakwera was waiting for official communication from the ACB on the matter.
However, Chikhosi did not say anything about what would become of Chaima Banda.
Before his sacking, Kambala had told The Daily Times that he would not comment on calls for him to resign.
“I am not saying anything [about resignation] at the moment,” Kambala said.
In another development, Kambala, Chihana and Chaima Banda were Wednesday granted bail at the Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrate Court in the case where they allegedly interfered with Nocma officials in the award of fuel importation contracts.
When ACB agents arrested the three this week, bureau spokesperson Egrita Ndala indicated that they were suspected of attempting to influence Nocma Deputy Chief Executive Officer Hellen Buluma to award contracts to Orxy, Finergy and Trafigura.
Kambala has been slapped with three charges of conspiracy to influence a public officer to abuse her office, as stipulated in Section 25 B (2), reading together with Section 35 of the Corrupt Practices Act; misuse of public office, in line with Section 25 B(1) of the Corrupt Practices Act; and attempting to influence a public officer to abuse her public office, as stipulated in Section 25 B(2), read together with Section 35 of the Corrupt Practices Act.
“Newton Kambala, Chris Chaima Banda and Enock Chihana, between the months of September and October 2020 in the City of Lilongwe, conspired together [sic] to influence Mrs Helen Buluma, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Nocma, to abuse her public office by awarding contracts of 2020-2021 fuel supply for the advantage of Orxy, Finergy and Trafigura Fuel companies.
“Honourable Newton Kambala, between the months of September and October 2020 in the City of Lilongwe, being the Minister of Energy, misused his office for the advantage of Trafigura by directing Mrs Helen Buluma, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Nocma, to prioritise an award of a contract of fuel supply to the said company which was one of the fuel bidders in the 2020-21 fuel supply procurement process,” the charge sheet reads.
Chihana and Chaima Banda have been charged with two counts of conspiracy to influence a public officer and attempting to influence a public officer to abuse her office.
ACB Director General Martha Chizuma said ACB was ready to proceed with prosecution in the matter, adding that they had sought consent from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Chizuma said ACB would parade five witnesses in the matter.