Leaders of Civil Society Organisations (CSO’s) leaders are expressing doubt if a task force instituted by ESCOM to investigate the institutions’ financial mismanagement will come up with tangible recommendations.
The CSOs worry follows the structure of the task force that comprises individuals from government institutions only.
The Board Chairperson for ESCOM Thomson Mpinganjira admitted that the parastatal has a MK50 billion deficit at the moment.
This was in response to allegations that the government took money amounting to MK40 billion from the institution to finance the ruling DPP.
The chair attributed this is due to a number of factors including a lack of proper handovers at the time the institution was being unbundled to form EGENCO, mismanagement of funds and miss procurement of resources.
“There are some errors that were done during the unbundling process but a huge component of the problems we have in ESCOM is to do with mismanagement of funds and miss procurement.”
He further revealed of the task force that has been instituted to investigate the business model of ESCOM and what went wrong for the institution to have such a deficit.
The task force comprises the Secretary to the Treasury, Principal Secretaries for Natural Resources and Energy and Human Resources, the controller of statutory bodies, Chief Executive Officer for the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) and a board member from ESCOM’s board.
The group has been given until end of the month of August this year to report to the Board Chairperson and the Chief Secretary to the government.
The structure of the task force has however raised doubts that it may not operate independently as it is all made up of government institutions.
Although Mpinganjira describes the task force as being a high powered one, activist Billy Mayaya believes there won’t be transparency and accountability.
He believes the body would have been trusted if private investigators were included in the investigation in question.
“I think there has been a continued lack of transparency and accountability at ESCOM. We (CSOs) would have loved to have seen a composition of more broad based network of investigators namely CSOs, members from the private sector so that it is truly independent,” he expressed concern.
On his part, Stevie Simusokwe of the Karonga Youth for Justice and Development believes this is one way of shielding the truth based on previous examples.
He also thinks most of those that are in the taskforce in question their decision are highly influenced by politics.
“It will be very difficult for Malawians to trust them because for the past the government has been instituting those task forces but to no avail, after all, it’s comprised of those siding with the government.” He hammered.
ESCOM workers are reportedly considering staging a national strike over issues relating to salary increments.
Details about the strike have been making rounds on social media for the past weeks, but a source within Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi confirmed the matter.
Capital FM has learnt that those planning to stage a strike are workers at Power station in Chichiri, Blantyre.
They were expecting a salary raise in March this year, but the management assured them that they will get an increase this month.
It has however emerged that there are no plans of raising their salaries this month, as the process of issuing salaries has already started.
However, ESCOM’s Acting Public Relations Manager George Mituka earlier trashed the reports, telling Capital FM that workers were not planning to stage a strike.
The development comes amidst concerns of the long hours of blackouts that are being experienced in the country.
Though ESCOM has denied reports that the load shedding schedule has been changed, Malawians continue to be subjected to up to 9 to 10 hours of no electricity on a daily basis.
The Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) has resolved not to increase electricity tariffs after ESCOM requested the authority to approve the adjustments.
MERA considers a review of ESCOM’s electricity tariff using the Automatic Tariff Adjustment Formula (ATAF).
The last revision of electricity tariffs was done on the 3rd of May, 2016 when the inflation and exchange rate were at 22.1 percent.
In a statement, MERA Board Chairperson Joseph Bvumbwe, applying the current economic fundamentals to ATAF resulted into a -7.73% potential electricity tariff adjustment.
But Bvumbwe says the Board has maintained the tariffs considering the backlog on the implementation of the fourth tranche of the second base tariff for the 2017/2018 and the ESCOM’s revenue loss emanating from the delay in implementing this tranche.
Consumers vented their anger against ESCOM on its decision to raise tariffs at a time the power company is providing only 8 hours of electricity and subjecting them to 24 hours of blackout.
This is not the first time that MERA has reversed such a decision.
In 2016 it was blocked by ESCOM from implementing a hike of electricity tariffs arguing that the supplier is generating enough funds for its operations though its services were deteriorating.
Malawi’s President, Peter Mutharika has been convinced by the Electricity Generating and supplying Companies EGENCO and ESCOM that the current power outages will be dealt with shortly.
This transpired earlier on Wednesday, when President Mutharika paid a surprise visit to ESCOM’s head offices in the commercial capital, Blantyre.
Business along the Victoria Avenue was brought to a standstill by the Malawi leader’s arrival.
According to managers of the two companies, measures are being implemented to rectify the problem, which the public and captains of industry have repeatedly expressed worry and anger over the persistent electricity blackouts.
The long hours without electricity, are affecting productivity in the manufacturing sector, and there continuous calls for the government to immediately identify solutions to the current challenges.
Though EGENCO has expressed interest in venturing into solar power, the plans are yet to be materialised.
Speaking after holding talks with EGENCO and ESCOM management, President Mutharika acknowledged the negative impact power outages are having, saying the government is giving the matter the attention it deserves.
Meanwhile, ESCOM revealed that power outages will continue until December this year as they are working on purchasing diesel generators to improve the situation.
Board Chairperson for the Parastatal Perks Ligoya told Capital FM that diesel generators may also come with high electricity tariffs upon the completion of the exercise.
“We have already signed agreements for 70 megawatts of power which may take close to a year for Malawians to use them.
As for the generators, by December about 30 generators to arrive and this will ease the power cuts that the country is experiencing,” Ligoya said.
Almost every year, Malawi experiences power cuts which arise due to the drop in levels of water in Lake Malawi mainly due to climate changes.
The level in the lake in turn affects the levels in Shire River which is EGENCO’s main source of power generation.
Amid pressure from Malawians, the country’s electricity generating and supplying companies are promising to eradicate blackouts by early next year.
Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) and Electricity Generation Company (EGENCO) officials, made the remarks during a civil society and media tour of their power stations in the southern region.
The public and Civil Society Organisations have been piling pressure on ESCOM and the EGENCO to improve the electricity provisions in the country.
They have been questioning why there are continued blackouts despite the unbundling of ESCOM which meant to solve electricity challenges in the country.
The two bodies organised a tour to brief the CSOs and the Media on the current power situation.
Water levels in the Shire River which houses the country’s power stations have reduced, which according to the two parastatals, is affecting electricity generation and supply.
Tedzani power station for instance, is said to be producing less than 60 megawatts of electricity out of the required 92 megawatts due to the same factor.
The responsible authorities assure Malawians that all will be well by the start of January with or without rains in the country owing to the Diesel generators project which is expected to finish by December.
Patrick Kadewa who is the Acting Director of System and Market Operator for ESCOM says they will bring mechanisms that intend to save energy like the LED bulbs.
Representing the CSOs on the tour, National Coordinator for Forum for National Development indicated a reversal of the planned demonstrations against persistent blackouts.
Capital FM’s own observation during the tour revealed that, the government needs to take a step further to restore the depleted trees in communities around the areas to reduce siltation.
It was sad to see people walking freely with charcoal on their bicycles around Tedzani, Kapichira and other areas around the power stations.
Electricity is a key for social economic development of every country hence the need for it to be looked into with the urgency it deserves.