It has been a hectic week in Malawi when it comes to stories making rounds on various platforms. Well, such has been the situation over the past few weeks.
The issue that came out prominently was the damaging allegations that former National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) deputy chief executive officer Helen Buluma made against the State firm’s board chairperson Colleen Zamba.
Buluma’s allegations have not gone through the rigorous test that such pronouncements are required to be subjected to. So far, we only have her story to believe, even though government officials the other day vainly attempted to “clear issues” surrounding her departure from Nocma.
She implicated Zamba and other government officials in oil importation shenanigans when she appeared before a Parliamentary committee and charged that she was ready to provide the necessary evidence to law enforcement agencies if they are interested in the matter.
The revelations have done a lot of damage to the Secretary to the President and Cabinet and government as a whole, there should be no pretence.
Obviously, as Buluma prepared to appear before the parliamentary committee, there was a lot of curiosity among Malawians who wanted to hear what goes on at the oil company.
You could clearly see during the enquiry that her issue was hot cake as comments even on social media pages were unprecedented.
She had the stage to say whatever she wished— perhaps even what was not true. She was charged and visibly bent at using her appearance before the lawmakers to “destroy” Zamba and company.
Her story immediately went out and profoundly tilted public opinion in her favour. So far, she is largely seen as a saint who tried her best to protect Malawians’ interest in the oil business.
Truth is that she cannot be!
There are several elements which should have warned authorities that they were dealing with someone who was not necessarily “theirs”.
We should not pretend here: every government puts in strategic positions officers it can trust; officers who share the cause and philosophy of that government, not someone who has her loyalty to another political party which also once sponsored her ticket to stand as a Member of Parliament.
We cannot pretend that Buluma was that strictly professional public officer who never again dealt with her former party (apparently, she resigned from Democratic Progressive Party) and dedicated herself to Nocma’s sacred responsibility.
I will say this again and again: the current administration is ridiculously stubborn, with its leadership choosing to behave in very strange ways.
But, perhaps providence was on Malawians’ side and hardened the hearts of our leaders so much that they could not listen to voices that persistently pushed for Buluma’s removal from Nocma.
Well, it is only necessary that President Lazarus Chakwera should act on the allegations the former Nocma DCEO made because that is what responsible and considerate leaders do.
I wonder how Zamba feels now after she defended Buluma as a professional public officer who was also legitimately employed at the State-owned oil company.
That is where one gets convinced that what Buluma said during her appearance before the lawmakers was the truth after all.
It is as if her bosses knew they had skeletons in their cupboards and feared any decision that could anger her would result in horrible exposures.
Zamba and company were not necessarily defending Buluma for nothing; only that now she has come out quicker than they did to discredit them and tell the world how wicked they are.
Any attempt to “clarify” on what she said cannot succeed, especially when those she was accusing of attempting to influence her to break the law in fuel procurement snubbed an opportunity to counter her assertions before the same platform where she had appeared.
In such a big issue of public interest, our Attorney General (AG) reportedly advised Zamba and company not to appear before the inquiry by the lawmakers.
Whatever reasons the AG gave for his position, the officials’ nonappearance was obviously not in public interest.
By the nature of their roles, members of Parliament have a responsibility of inquiring how public resources are being utilised.
It is unfortunate that at a time Malawians sought answers on what has been going on at Nocma that led to the firing or resigning of Buluma, Zamba and company decided to keep quiet.
Now, they are turning around to try to “clarify” on the issues using press statements and press conferences when the single story has already been permeated every corner of the country.
In any case, was the Nocma board’s decision to refuse to appear before Parliament really about following the law or evading important questions?
There are several officers—including those working in the private sector—who have appeared before parliamentary committees where necessary. Public interest is always the key phrase.
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. Follow him on Twitter @aponje