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The shame was avoidable

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Hellen Buluma

The chaotic departure of Helen Buluma from the National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) is something that could have been avoided.

It simply required Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC), Colleen Zamba, in her capacity as Nocma board chairperson, to do the right thing when Ombudsman Grace Malera recommended Buluma’s removal from the oil company on the premise that her recruitment was irregular.

Instead, in a rather peculiar turn, Zamba wholly rejected the ombudsman’s recommendations and went on to describe the former Nocma deputy chief executive officer (DCEO) as the finest thing to have ever happened to the troubled company.

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Everyone who cares about the rule of law disagreed with Zamba’s reaction to the report and wondered how the country’s top civil servant could so blatantly ignore the law.

Then all of a sudden, the Nocma board chair turns around and fires Buluma from her position based on the same recommendations by the ombudsman.

Apparently, a different legal opinion necessitated the latest decision.

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Why that legal opinion was not sought at the very beginning is difficult to comprehend.

Now, like she has always done in her pattern of frustration, Buluma announced she had resigned from the position apparently because she had been under intense pressure to break procurement laws.

Whether it is her resignation or her firing that came first may be immaterial at this point.

But in the whole saga, there is a government that should have eggs all over its face for rejecting recommendations which could have divested it of an officer the President himself had directed should not be at Nocma.

The clearing of the rubble that the President had so passionately talked about became a farce when it became clear that some rubble was more important than others.

In fact, there have been several questions about why the Nocma board retained the former DCEO even when her contract had expired.

It could be because of what she is now claiming; that some officers have been pressuring her to circumvent the law in fuel supply contracts.

Well, such allegations are grave and it is only necessary that Buluma has a platform where she can say all what she knows so far.

Perhaps, if the matter does not get as far as the courts, Parliament should be interested in it and ask more questions about the allegations so that Malawians really know what goes on at the oil company.

After all, the lawmakers have done some inquiry into activities at Nocma before and they could just build on that and get deeper with the matter.

On the other hand, Buluma’s chaotic departure may be an opportunity for Malawians to know more about the shenanigans that happen at Nocma.

Apparently, oil deals are some of the most abused public procurement processes where officers with sticky fingers do all they can to steal from Malawians.

Some of the claims that the former Nocma DCEO has made are good starting points for investigators if they are willing to pursue the matter.

We cannot allow her departure to be the end of everything.

Of course, it is clear that she is frustrated and might strive as much as she can to take down her purported enemies even if they are really not in the wrong anywhere, but that is the price you pay for ignoring the law and siding with an officer the ombudsman clearly stated should leave.

It was interesting to see government, through its spokesperson Gospel Kazako, issuing a statement ‘clarifying’ that Buluma’s firing had come before her resignation.

All that scampering for explanations, again, could have been avoided if the Nocma board had not been stubborn and had done what the ombudsman had recommended.

Zamba’s response to the ombudsman’s recommendations was quite surprising. She went to every length to explain—and lie— why Buluma should not be subjected to the recommendations.

Perhaps, there is something that has happened between the time the SPC responded to the ombudsman and the time Buluma got fired or resigned that tainted the relationship between the now-former Nocma DCEO and the board.

It is unlikely that the legal opinion is the only thing that pushed the board to the ultimate decision.

After all, if the board was so convinced that Buluma was indeed legally recruited and the best person to lead Nocma, it could have chosen to reject the legal opinion without anyone knowing about that.

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