The Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) is not among the best institutions when it comes to communication with the general public.
The chief executive officer there, his management and communications team have opted to shunning the media, in the process denying consumers and businesses crucial information which could help in managing situations especially at times when the country is experiencing fuel supply shortages.
I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised sometime last week to hear the rather media-shy Mera CEO Dr Allexon Chiwaya speaking on MBC Radio One during which the reporter, Patrick Dambula, asked him just one question: Does the current availability of fuel at filling stations means an end to the country's fuel shortages? Below was his full response which I recorded and transcribed for your raw consumption:
"I think the good news is that we now have enough instruments to keep us going for some time. Fuel situation is a process. You have to know the demand for the country. Then you strike contracts with suppliers.
Normally we want contracts to last for six months or one year of supplies. In the past, the country was not able to pay because of forex problems. Suppliers resisted supplying us on credit. They were looking for money upfront or letters of credit to be established.
That required a lot of money upfront and we could not afford that. So we would go on spot markets like in Beira and look for whatever was on offer there. And these spot purchases are normally very expensive.
But we have now managed to strike some contracts with suppliers on short term – like three or six months. But meanwhile, while we are doing that, we may not be able to lift that much. We may have the product at the ports but due to some logistics, may be power problems at loading, accidents on the way or weather problems.
But again even when we come over here, we don't have enough storage to keep us going for some time. It's like maize. You have a harvest period, you store for consumption later. With us, we consume over a million litres of petrol and diesel combined which means that we need to put into the country a minimum of one million litres every day.
And there are times when at the port, there may not be any loading at all like weekends. The country gets supplied from Beira, Dar es Salaam and Nacala. The ports command respect for 65 percent [of supplies] for Beira, 25 percent for Nacala and the rest from Dar es Salaam. But currently we have supplies from Beira only because of the contracted suppliers we have. But we are trying everything possible to make sure that all the three ports are functional.
But as I said, at least from last year, when the new government came into place, we have been able to have forex for fuel importation. This is why you have seen that, as HE [President Joyce Banda] has indicated, we have managed to get rid of the queues at the filling stations. And this will continue because right now, we have got enough financial instruments to keep us going for sometime through the local banks and through other financiers such as the PTA Bank."
Not really good news but Thumbs Up all the same to Dr Chiwaya for at last coming out in the open and giving out such critical information about the short term prospects of the country's fuel supplies.
Some readers as usual gave some feedback to last week's article titled "Private sector efficiency at work in govt hospitals" which commended the Ministry of Health for introducing a system for outsourcing some support services, such as catering and cleaning, in government hospitals -- leading to cleaner environments and better food servings in the health facilities.
'I am enthralled'
I am enthralled by your opinion in today's [January 29] The Daily Times about the initiative of outsourcing supportive services in public hospitals. You know it was piloted only at tertiary hospitals but the fruits are just wonderful. And now district hospitals are being encouraged to follow suit, funds permitting, and some have already started in some areas like security and landscaping. There are more successes in the sector worth mentioning which can as well uplift the morale of contractors and their staff than capitalise on negatives which not only demoralise them but also discourage the service seekers in this case clients or patients to access services. I personally I enjoy your writings and please keep it up. My morale and spirit has been lifted with today's reading on your Business Thumbs column and I have learnt and believed that not all is lost and we can change things to at least serve our patients better.
Blair Sibale, Mzuzu
'Prisoners can be useful too'
Thank you very much for your article you wrote in [last] Tuesday's The Daily Times. You have said it all. I, however, wish to also suggest that authorities should use prisoners to clean around hospitals and city streets. I remember this was being done during the MCP [Malawi Congress Party] era and our hospitals and cities used to be very clean. Why not use them now? There are many examples in the world where prisoners clean up public facilities.
Chiza Longwe, Lilongwe