By Serah Chilora & Mandy Pondani:
One year after the Office of the Ombudsman commenced processes to investigate the alleged irregular and unprocedural recruitment of Deputy Chief Executive Officer for the National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) Helen Buluma and other senior officials, no progress has been made.
Ombudsman Grace Malera has said Nocma is yet to respond to her office’s inquiry thereby stalling the investigations.
It is on record that Buluma’s contract comes to an end on August 27, 2022.
The stalemate comes at a time when the parastatal has no Chief Executive Officer following the expiry of Gift Dulla’s contract who was suspended pending investigations.
In November 2020, Nocma board suspended CEO Gift Dulla, alongside other top officials, to pave way for investigations in alleged mis-procurement and financial mismanagement.
The board appointed Buluma as CEO in acting capacity, which caused controversy as she was regarded as affiliated to Democratic Progressive Party and the appointment was later rescinded.
Responding to our questionnaire Malera said even though Nocma duly responded to the first inquiry, they have not cooperated on the subsequent one.
“We noted a number of gaps in their responses and therefore we sent Nocma follow-up communication soliciting further details and comprehensive responses from them. We are expecting to hear from them,” Malera said.
“Need I say that we initially served them with a notice of investigations and specific issues on which we sought the institution’s responses in relation to the alleged irregular and unprocedural recruitment of the Deputy CEO then; they duly responded,” she added.
Malera stressed that the feedback to their second inquiry is what would form basis for their next action on the matter.
Asked why and when the Nocma did not comply to the Ombudsman request Buluma cut the line on us.
And Chairperson for the Nocma Board Zangazanga Chikhosi said it is none of our business.
“Why is that your business, she holds public office yes, and it could be a matter of public interest but why should it be if your interest,” he queried before dropping the line.
Governance expert Willie Kambwandira of the Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (CSAT) lamented the prolonged existing gaps at the parastatal, arguing they leave room for corruption speculations.
Kambwandira said while it was proper to wait for the investigations to conclude before making appointments in the key positions, the duration has crippled the functionalities of the entity.
“It is clear that the functionality of Nocma is compromised; in short there is no management at Nocma. The danger is that the situation exposes the institution to corruption and abuse of office. And government is deliberately putting these people at risk to make unnecessary and costly decisions.
“We therefore ask government to move with speed to fill the vacant positions at Nocma, our concern is strategic government institution that has to make strategic decisions every day and in the absence of a proper structured management Nocma’s decision can be easily challenged, and we have seen this before,” he said.
In April 2021, the office of the Ombudsman received three complaints against Buluma querying her recruitment, with the complaints claiming that the position does not exist on the Nocma organogram and that Buluma did not attend any interviews.