SPEECH BY RT. HON. DR. LAZARUS CHAKWERA, MP ON LIFTING OF MAIZE EXPORT BAN AND ENERGY CRISIS
Greeting my Fellow Malawians
It is with heaviness of heart that I address you live today, particularly, because I personally can see that the country in which you are living has literally been plunged into darkness by the incessant blackouts as a result of ESCOM’s load-shedding, and figuratively, into darkness of hopelessness as there seems to be no end to the blackouts and other economic problems plaguing this nation.
LIFTING OF THE MAIZE EXPORT BAN
Before I address the main issue of blackouts and load-shedding, let me address the issue of the government’s ban of maize exports.
During his visit to ADMARC on Monday 30th October, 2017, the president announced a lift of the ban of maize export.
My fellow Malawians, while we applaud the lifting of the ban, we would like to say that the ban itself was ill-timed and ill-advised. It clearly showed that we have a president who is insensitive, callous and unconcerned about the suffering of Malawians in general and our poor farmers in particular. Why do I say this?
This lifting of the ban should not have been made end October 2017 after vendors and business connected to DPP have robbed poor farmers of their maize at very low prices only to resell it at the very high prices upon the ban being lifted.
Poor farmers desperate to provide for their families were forced to sell their maize for prices between K30 and K50 per kg during the subsistence of the ban as it was perceived there was no market for maize. Right now, the price of maize has steadily increased, thereby enabling middlemen to make astronomical and obscene windfall profits. If the ban had been lifted earlier, say in June/July this would have ensured and assured a ready market for our farmer thus pushing the maize price up and in the process benefitting our poor farmers. The long ban only serves to benefit the middlemen and not the general public. This is sad and unfortunate. We hope not to see a repeat of this next year, if the government survives up to next year.
We also hope that the lifting of the ban is well calculated to avoid the 2003 situation in which maize was sold outside the country leaving Malawians with nothing to eat leading to thousands of direct and indirect avertable deaths. We do not want our people to go through what they went through in 2003 season.
State owned enterprises mandated to provide electricity to the nation have of late dismally failed to generate sufficient energy to power industries and households – thus resulting in prolonged blackouts and load-shedding for ridiculously long periods never seen before.
As a result of the blackouts, many businesses have virtually failed and are closing shop: butcheries are seeing their meat turned to rot, salons cannot operate, maize mills cannot mill, welders cannot weld, hatcheries cannot hatch, students cannot study, hospitals have turned into death-zones as operating theatres cannot operate and vaccines cannot be stored, factories are operating at half-mast and incurring heavy losses; ordinary families with refrigerated foodstocks are suffering losses. The list is endless. This is not fiction. This is reality of our daily lives as Malawians. Sadly, there is no end in sight.
Instead of a strategic leader that is moved by your plight as Malawians, we have a president in Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika who seems clueless, directionless and insensitive to the people’s misery and suffering inflicted through these blackouts.
In the state president, we have a pathological liar who chooses to feed Malawians lies to give them a sense of hope that their state president is concerned about their plight when his actions tell a different story. As a matter of fact, it has become apparent that the president and his charges take pleasure in the plight, suffering and misfortunes befalling Malawians as they use these unfortunate situations to cash in and enrich themselves. We saw it in the Zambia maize procurement saga. Instead of being concerned with your suffering as Malawians, Senior members of the Mutharika government were busy finding ways to enrich themselves. I would have said much more about this had it not been that the matter is in court; we cannot comment much. The same can be said of the massive pilferage of medicines procured for the benefit of poor Malawians. Many people in government are benefiting through various evil schemes designed to deprive poor Malawians of medicines bought with their own taxes.
In the case of blackouts, instead of sincerely working to resolve the situation, Mutharika’s cronies have used the situation to enrich themselves. Whether this is with or without the blessing of the state president, we do not know yet. However, it is surprising that the state president has remained silent and has failed to act against on the allegation of serious misconduct of senior officials in his own government and ESCOM. He seems to be sleeping on the job and he cannot smell the rat in his own backyard and the President has opted for public relations stunts that bear no fruits to suffering Malawians.
The country has been told and made to believe that government is procuring/hiring/leasing generators through ESCOM that will generate 78 megawatts of electricity by 31 December 2017. According to documents in our possession, this arrangement would cost, in total, USD73, 978,633 (roughly USD74million) which is an equivalent of MK54, 374,295,255 (at an exchange rate of USD1/MK735).
FACTS OF THE MATTER
In October 2016, none other than the president himself promised 78MW of diesel-powered generators to fill the gap in power supply. In his own words, Mutharika promised to connect such power to the grid by December 2016. Nothing happened!
Fast-forward to 2017, ESCOM management called for tenders for supply of such standby power generators through some Independence Power Producer (IPP) Framework.
As it has become a tradition in the Mutharika government, some company (called APAC Energy) was included even though it was not part of the initial bidders list.
Aggreko emerged as the successful bidder to provide generators in 3 selected sites in Blantyre(Mapanga), Lilongwe(Kanengo) and Kasungu(Chinyama) to the tune of USD73,978,633.
On 12th April 2017 ESCOM sought a “No Objection” letter from ODPP through letter referenced ESC 617/RT/S/FY 2016-17.
On 25th April 2017 a “No Objection” was granted by the ODPP to ESCOM.
ESCOM thus went into negotiations with Aggreko for the other terms and conditions of the contract.
ESCOM and Aggreko subsequently signed a contract.
It turned out that State House strangely preferred to have two companies whose names we have to be awarded the contract.
In fact, two of Mutharika’s own charges at State House, allegedly advised the two companies to write ESCOM BOARD chairperson to complain that the tendering process was wrong.
The truth is that the two of Mutharika’s own charges were hoping to get a cut from the deal. The two companies did as instructed.
ESCOM then wrote ODPP on 7 August 2017 seeking guidance as the contract had already been awarded to Aggreko and ODPP advised that at this point nothing could be done.
Still not satisfied, State House officials ORDERED the Chief Secretary to ask ODPP to find fault with Aggreko award so that the contract is subsequently cancelled and then awarded to one of their preferred two companies.
ODPP complied and subsequently launched an investigation into the tendering process. On 28th August 2017 ODPP wrote a report to the Chief Secretary faulting the process and effectively cancelling the ESCOM/Aggreko contract.
Chief Secretary eventually ordered ESCOM to cancel the tender. Thus ESCOM wrote Aggreko on 7 September 2017 advising them that the tender had been cancelled.
The Chief Secretary instructed EGENCO to take over the procurement process since ESCOM had failed. For the record, the Chief Secretary is the Board Chairman of EGENCO and State House charges saw that they would easily influence the Chief Secretary.
EGENCO thus recommenced the tendering process. Bids were called for and evaluation done.
Unfortunately, the State House preferred company did not bid.
While waiting for the results of the evaluation process, on Tuesday 24th October 2017 at 5.30pm a meeting was convened by the Chief Secretary involving the ESCOM Board Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer in the presence of Dr. Collins Magalasi and two representatives of a company called Altaaqa (which is the one that did not bid) at Ryalls Hotel. Clear instructions were given to ESCOM to award the generator contract to Altaaqa even though they did not satisfy the procurement requirements as per document in our possession.
My fellow Malawians you may wish to know that Altaaqa was consistently number 4 under the ESCOM evaluation process and as I said, they never submitted any bid under EGENCO bidding process.
To back up this meeting at Ryalls hotel, the “beneficiaries” of transaction convinced President Mutharika to stage a joint meeting of ESCOM and EGENCO Boards of Directors which he subsequently attended on Wednesday 25th October 2017 in Blantyre.
During this staged board meeting the ESCOM Board chairman was overheard telling the President that the Board and Management were ready to implement the DIRECTIVE he (the president) made through the Chief Secretary to single source from Altaaqa. Thus Altaaqa which never bid at EGENCO and was consistently number 4 was awarded contract in single sourcing.
On Sunday 29th October 2017 at the Mlakho wa Alhomwe annual festival, the President lied to you Malawians that one generator had been shipped into the country when none of that had happened. He even said that another one was being shipped into the country and would be in by 1 December 2017. This too was a lie too.
As he was delivering his speech at the Mlakho wa Alhomwe on 29th October, 2017, Altaaqa was actually cancelling the contract due to what they called “variations to our Terms and Conditions that are not acceptable” through a letter dated 29th October 2019.
Fellows Malawians, we have four questions?
Why is the Chief Secretary involved in ESCOM procurement? This is clear case of abuse of office, interference and misprocurement.
Where is the EGENCO procurement process advertised in the Nation issue of 20th September 2017, essentially communicating to Malawians?
Why is Altaaqa, which was consistently number 4 during the cancelled ESCOM tender process and which never submitted any bid to EGENCO, in discussion with ESCOM?
Why single-source from Altaaqa?
OUR TAKE ON THE ACTION OF GOVERNMENT
This clearly shows that the |Mutharika-led government is more concerned with enriching members of the DPP than the plight of Malawians. They have deliberately created a crisis with the sole purpose of embezzling taxpayers’ funds. This government does not care about the cost Malawians are paying for its costs. Ordinary Malawians are paying for their dear lives just for DPP officials to enrich themselves. In truth, what we are calling government is simply a cartel whose raison d’etre is self-enrichment. The President is either inept at leadership and is completely clueless of what his cadres are doing in destroying the country or he is complicit in these nefarious schemes. Either way, the President has with respect to these issues acted and continues to act against the interest of Malawians.
I would like to sternly remind President Mutharika of this country’s sacrosanct constitutional principle which states that all legal and political authority of the State derives from the people of Malawi and should be exercised solely to serve and protect their interest. Indeed, the Constitution binds him to exercise his presidential powers only in accordance with his responsibilities to the people of Malawi. Needless to say, President Mutharika is exercising his power and authority merely to serve and protect the interest of the DPP and its cadres. He has clearly abandoned his responsibilities to Malawians.
My fellow Malawians, we urge Malawians to be vigilant and call their leader to account. We cannot be indifferent to the continued plunder of our nation’s wealth by President Mutharika’s small corterie of sycophants and tribesmen. As the Leader of Opposition I shall not tire in my mission to call out those that want Malawians to continue wallowing in poverty as they continue to unjustly enrich themselves. As such, I, as President of the Malawi Congress Party and Leader of Opposition do demand a public enquiry into this stand-by generator deal.
It is my sincere hope that those that are found fallen foul of the laws of the country shall be prosecuted accordingly.
Fellow Malawians, I thank you for your kind attention.
God bless you all.
Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, MP
2nd November, 2017