A Fiji consultant who was hired by the British firm which government licensed for oil exploration on Lake Malawi is demanding K64.2 million in unpaid consultancy fees.
Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija has dragged Surestream Petroleum to court pressing for payment for the consultancy services she rendered, on behalf of the company, during the Comesa Summit in Lilongwe and at the Commonwealth meeting in Perth, Australia, in October last year.
In her court documents filed by her lawyers, Nicholls and Brooks, in the Lilongwe High Court (Commercial Division), Alakija claims she had been hired by Surestream to facilitate safe motherhood activities in Malawi under the Callista Mutharika Safe Motherhood Foundation prior to and after the British company was awarded the oil exploration licence in September 2011.
Alakija says, in the affidavit, she met the former First Lady, Callista Mutharika, in February last year on a safe motherhood discussion as a starting point for Surestream to gain access to the late president Bingu wa Mutharika who would eventually facilitate the awarding of an oil exploration licence.
Alakija had flown into Malawi in the company of Surestream officials, Callista’s sister, Rose Chapola, and Chief Geologist in the Ministry of Energy and Mining, Leonard Kalindekafe, from South Africa where they met.
She suggests this meeting with Callista helped to open the door for Surestream officials to meet the former president who in the end assured them that the permit for oil exploration would be approved.
After the permit was awarded, Surestream also hired Alakija for similar activities during the First Ladies’ Round Table meeting during the Lilongwe Comesa Summit and later in Perth, Australia.
But the company has not paid her for these last engagements, she claims, and she feels Surestream used her so that it could procure the licence.
Now, she has filed a lawsuit demanding payment for the outstanding bill amounting to US$237,600 (about K64.2 million in current exchange rates).
In the copy of the invoice she addressed to Surestream headquarters in Reading, United Kingdom, and included in the affidavits, Alakija indicates she
Fixer demands K64m in oil deal spent 48 hours in September 2011 preparing for the Comesa First Ladies’ Round Table meeting which was themed on maternal health.
She also spent 94 hours between October 8 and 17, 2011 executing activities during the Comesa summit in Lilongwe and another 90 hours drafting and preparing documents for the conference programme.
She spent 12 hours between October 18 and 19 meeting Surestream Chief Executive Officer Christopher Pitman in Johannesburg, South Africa and making a presentation on Surestream corporate social responsibility direction and another five hours on October 21 also meeting Surestream officials.
Between October 23 and 31, she spent 48 hours on various activities including travelling to assist the former First Lady and her safe motherhood foundation and meeting the former First Lady’s staff and Malawi government delegation on behalf of Surestream.
These activities were charged at US$800 (K216, 000) per hour. The invoice Number 2 dated December 20, 2011, was issued under the project description of “Scope of work undertaken on behalf of Surestream Petroleum as requested by Mr Chris Pitman” and its project title is “Malawi”.
Our online searches show Alakija is an internationally renowned maternal health expert who has previously worked with UNFPA and Unicef and has also served as chair of the UNAIDS technical working group.
She is also founder and executive director of a Fiji-based Transformational Development Agency (TDA), an organisation whose logo and postal address is carried on the invoice.
In our article in this paper last week we published details, as related in the affidavit, as to how Alakija claims to have been involved in the Malawi oil exploration licensing deal when Surestream hired her before the awarding of the licence to the company.
In the process she had a meeting with the former First Lady, a meeting which led to Surestream officials meeting the former president and accessing his private cell phone number and getting assurance from him that their application for a permit would be approved.
But in an email reaction to our earlier story, Pitman said his company “emphatically denies the allegations” as it pursues a charitable cause in Malawi and wherever it operates.
“Surestream Petroleum Limited is committed to a programme of assistance and support for local communities and charitable projects within Malawi and other countries across the African continent,” he said.
Pitman added Surestream Petroleum Limited would “be vigorously defended” in the case.
In earlier email correspondences in the week, the Surestream chief indicated the company could explain its activities after the court case.
In the affidavit which also contains exhibits of correspondence between the consultant and Surestream officials including Pitman , Alakija suggests she was used by Surestream to facilitate the awarding of the oil exploration licence to the company.
Eventually, she claims, the company dumped her and has been avoiding her after it achieved its mission to obtain the licence.
“I believe through my efforts in my conducting the consultancy, Mr Pitman and Surestream had achieved their aim, as at that time he had told me that he had President Bingu wa Mutharika’s private cell phone number and had made arrangements to fund some project for the First Lady, hence I was no longer of any use to him and the company,” says Alakija in the affidavit.
“I make this affidavit conscientiously knowing the contents hereof to be true to the best of my knowledge, information and belief,” reads the document filed in the Lilongwe Registry on June 20, 2012 and endorsed by Christopher Tukula as Commissioner for Oaths. The matter, Commercial Cause Number 44 of 2012, comes in Judge Lovemore Chikopa’s chambers on July 25, 2012 at 9 am.