Secretary to the President and Cabinet is rightly serving as chair of some parastatal boards because that is what the law provides. But as his institutions wallow in controversies, which it appears he is not even interested to solve, it is proof that his role in the boards is a liability to the nation, analysts argue.
By Isaac Salima
At law, Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC), an office currently occupied by Zangazanga Chikhosi, is rightly serving as chair of the boards of some parastatal organisations in the country.
But some of these organisations are mired in controversy which the current chair of their boards is not even seen to be trying to resolve to ensure their efficiency.
According to some analysts, the chair is comfortably sitting on the mess because he reports to himself, arguing that this is a situation Malawi needs to deal with.
They suggest that the law needs to be reviewed so that the SPC does not chair the board of any parastatal.
This follows concerns on performances of some statutory corporations and bodies of government.
Last week, we reported about Salima Sugar Company, a company in which government has stakes in and helped set up, where among other things, we found that it is violating the country’s Employment of Expatriates and Employment Act. A horde of Indians have taken up not only the key jobs at the company but even the low grade ones which could easily be filled by Malawians.
Chikhosi, through the Greenbelt Investment Holdings Limited, is heading Malawi government interest in the company as he chairs a board appointed by President Lazarus Chakwera.
Chikhosi also chairs the board of the National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) and Electricity Generation Company (Egenco).
Egenco is in a generator deal with Aggreko which the current administration targeted for review for allegedly being associated with some underhand dealings. Government has gone conspicuously quite on this contract.
Nocma too is mired in fuel importation contract controversy that has led to the arrest of top officials – Newton Kambala who was Minister of Energy, Enock Chihana who is president for Alliance for Democracy (Aford) and Chris Chaima Banda who was Chakwera’s aide.
South Africa-based lawyer Danwood Chirwa said SPC’s heading of parastatals is an indicator of the state of poor governance in Malawi.
“This only guarantees persistent political interference with the operations of the corporations and a total breach of the corporate veil,” he told Malawi News.
He said the reality is that statutory corporations have traditionally been used to feed patronage networks of the politicians.
He described them as avenues for looting, the plunder of which is used for personal enrichment and political campaigns.
“As a result of all of this, we have inefficient and poorly performing parastatals and festering corruption, incompetence and unending looting,” Chirwa said.
Another law expert Edge Kanyongolo said having SPC chairing boards of statutory corporations may attract conflict of interest.
“There may be times when what the statutory corporations are doing is in conflict with what the government wants. So if you have the same person in government and also running parastatals, it will create problems,” Kanyongolo said.
And Human Rights Defenders Coalition chairperson Gift Trapence said SPC’s grip on parastatals is costing the country hugely.
“Nocma board has not yet filled critical positions of CEO [Chief Executive Officer] and Director of Finance. Another critical area is power generation where the public purse is funding billions of kwacha every week under a diesel power generation contract signed with Aggreko to supplement hydroelectric power in the country. Power generation is the responsibility of Egenco. Both Egenco and Nocma boards are chaired by one person.
“As a country we need to review laws not to allow SPC to chair these boards. How can you report to yourself? We need to free these boards,” Trapence said.
However, Public Affairs Committee (Pac) does not support the view that the law should be changed.
“Pac does not support such an amendment as it compromises the checks and balances that the SPC/OPC is supposed to make [in the boards],” Pac spokesperson Gilford Matoga said.
Our effort to speak with Chikhosi on the matter did not yield much as he could not pick our calls when we tried to contact him on Wednesday and Thursday.
But Minister of Information, Gospel Kazako, said the government machinery welcomes changes that would not compromise its operations.
“Most administrative systems and provisions are live and as such, there is always room for improvement if the alterations will not breed a compromise that will affect the process of realising objectives,” Kazako said.
The SPC is also an ex-official for the Malawi Gaming Board and Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority.