Former President Mutharika abused powers at MERA

BY GREGORY GONDWE

An investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman has fingered former Malawi President Peter Mutharika for abusing his powers. He hired Collins Magalasi to become Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA), at the time that he was serving him as his Chief Economic Advisor and Executive Assistant. Mutharika bypassed a legal provision that does not allow a president to make such an appointment.

Ombudsman Martha Chizuma said according to Section 118 of the Energy Regulatory Act, the MERA CEO is supposed to be appointed by the board after announcing a vacancy and conducting interviews.

“When the board members tried to kick-start the recruitment process after passing a resolution at their 37th Extraordinary Board Meeting,” Chizuma disclosed. “The ex-officio members, namely the Ministry of Energy and the Comptroller of Statutory Corporation informed them that the board could not proceed to recruit the CEO.”

The investigations established that ex-officio members informed the board that this was a role and function of the Department of Comptroller of Statutory Corporations and there was a need to inform the Office of the President and Cabinet.

The board later learned that the president had appointed Magalasi.

In her determination, the Ombudsman said the appointment of Magalasi, without advertising the position and allowing for fair and open competition was illegal and unprocedural.

“The appointment of Dr. Magalasi by the State President is contrary to the dictates of the Constitution as read with the Energy Regulation Act,” she declared.

The Ombudsman has meanwhile ordered that Magalasi, who was appointed in 2017, should not be paid his terminal benefits.

 “I therefore, direct the board to treat Dr. Collins Magalasi’s contract as a nullity right from the start. Accordingly, the Board should not pay him any end of Term Benefits and if the same have already been paid, they should be reclaimed,” reads the report titled Institutional Anarchy that was released as a result of the investigation.

Magalasi and three others, currently on bail, are appearing before court on charges of fraud, abuse of office, money laundering and entering into a contract with an employee in a K107 million procurement deal.

He is also appearing in court for allegedly abusing MERA resources when he bankrolled Mutharika’s former ruling Democratic Progressive Party 2018 convention to a tune of K10.5 million, according to invoices from different hotels.

Upon his 2014 presidential election victory, Mutharika appointed Magalasi as his Chief Economic Advisor from his position as CEO for African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (AFRODAD) where he had worked for four years. He was promoted as Chief Economic Advisor and Executive Assistant to the President before he made him MERA CEO in November 2017.

MERA’s board member Phyllis Manguluti said they welcome the Ombudsman’s report, which they have been expecting, with an open mind as they plan to go through it.

“There are determinations that have been made. We are going to give feedback accordingly,” said Manguluti.

The investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman has exposed unprocedural recruitments of other top MERA executives.

The report that investigated 12 employment related cases has established that some directors and managers were recruited without having the prescribed qualifications.

Those who recruited irregularly are Electricity and Renewable Energy Director the late Maxwell Mkumba, Planning and Monitoring Manager Godfrey Chilenga, Senior Information Communications and Technology officer Billy Kayira, Legal Manager Cynthia Chawani and Internal Audit Manager Alex Ganiza.

The Ombudsman said she did not rule on a complaint on the recruitment of the Human Resource Manager Troy Mtenje as it was being handled by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).

On the appointment of the Legal Services Director Ishmael Chioko, who it was alleged was irregularly promoted as acting CEO when he did not have requisite qualifications, the Ombudsman said she cleared him on the allegations.

Chizuma said according to Section 18 of the Energy Regulation Act, the powers to appoint the CEO are vested in the board, but his appointment was not a substantive one; hence, did not need to be made by the board.

The Ombudsman also ruled that there was an abuse of benefits by the CEO’s personal assistant Priscilla Mkandawire, who she discovered uses a “company motor vehicle and fuel benefits contrary to MERA’s Terms and Conditions of Service.” She described it as an abuse of public resources.

In her determination, through the report released last Friday, the Ombudsman revealed that her office has been investigating MERA since last year after receiving complaints alleging “irregular, nepotistic, discriminatory and fraudulent” recruitment processes at the energy regulator.