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NRWB CEO in conflict of interest situation

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Titus Mtegha

By Deogratias Mmana:

Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) Chief Executive Officer Titus Mtegha has rented out his two lodges to China State Construction Engineering Company, a contractor hired by the water board to handle a $26.7m (K22bn) Karonga Town Water Supply Project.

The project started on March 22, 2021. But the documents showing the Declaration of Interest are dated June 2021. The tenancy agreement is dated December 2021. Mtegha showed us both these documents.

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But Section 22 of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act of 2022 stipulates that a public officer wanting to declare interest should do so before the commencement of procurement processes.

Section 22 (1) reads: “Where any member of the Authority, a committee of the Authority, any employee of the Authority, any public official or member of an Internal Procurement and Disposal Committee has any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in relation to any matter before the Authority, any of its committees, or the procuring and disposing entity, he shall-

(a) disclose at or before the meeting convened to discuss that matter, the nature of his interest; and

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(b) not take part in any deliberation or any decision-making process in relation to that matter.

The project involves rehabilitating, upgrading and expanding the existing Karonga Water Supply System so that it provides reliable and sustainable potable water.

And Mtegha has rented out his two Mphiri lodges to the contractor of the project.

One lodge is in Mzuzu and the other in Karonga. The Mzuzu lodge is used as a regional office for the contractor while the one in Karonga is used as an office and for accommodation for consultants for the same project.

The contractor occupied Mphiri lodge in Mzuzu in December 2020 and the Karonga lodge in 2021.

Records at the Registrar General show that the two lodges are under Mphiri Investments registered in 2003 whose shareholders are Titus Chilevu Mtegha and Queen Tombi Mtegha from Chisumbu Village in Traditional Authority Wasambo in Karonga.

In 2004, Mphiri Investments was changed to Mphiri Limited company under the same shareholders.

We visited both lodges and found a notice at the gates that the lodges were closed.

At Karonga lodge, an employee told us that the lodge was closed because China State Construction Engineering Company staff were using it.

The employee said management decided to rent the lodges out to the contractor because the business was struggling due to Covid-19.

Mtegha admitted that the lodges were a family business. He said his lawyer advised him to declare interest.

In an interview, Mtegha admitted owning the lodges and renting them out to the contractor working on the Karonga Town Water Supply Project.

He said he declared his interest and he submitted the documents to the board and to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA).

But Public Relations Officer for PPDA Grace Thipa said NRWB did not write to the Authority to seek approval of a Declaration of Interest made by the Board’s Chief Executive Officer.

She further said the Public  Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act does not require a procuring entity to submit to the Authority such requests for approval.

Instead, the Act gives powers to the Internal Procurement and Disposal Committee (IPDC) of the procuring entity to make decisions related to procurement.

NRWB board chairperson James Munthali also confirmed the conflict of interest that has engulfed Mtegha but added that the CEO served the board with a declaration of interest on the same.

Said Munthali: “As chairman of the board, I am aware of the two lodges and the CEO’s business with the said parties. I was also served with letters by the CEO declaring his interest in the two properties.

“He assured me that all relevant consultations regarding conflict of interest were made before entering into the said contracts.”

But the Malawi Institute of Procurement and Supply (Mips) has faulted Mtegha for declaring his interest after the commencement of the procurement proceedings.

Mips said Mtegha would have faced disciplinary measures if he was a member of the institute.

Mips Chief Executive Officer Feston Kaupa said: “Professional members of the Malawi Institute of Procurement and Supply are expected to declare their interest in any procurement before commencement of the procurement proceedings.

“However, the institute reserves its comment on this matter because the CEO of NRWB is not a member of Mips. If the CEO was a member of the institute, appropriate membership disciplinary measures would have been pursued.”

Principal Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Yanira Ntupanyama did not respond to our questionnaire.

The project is being funded by Opec Fund for International Development (Ofid) to the tune of $15 million, Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (Badea) at $10 million and Malawi government at $1.7 million.

The project is expected to increase access to potable water and improve health and sanitation to over 184,000 people.

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