President Peter Mutharika who is constructing a 10-kilometre tarmac road to his farm in Chiradzulu has angered local residents who want to be compensated for the property they claim to have lost during construction of the road, Weekend Nation understands.
Weekend Nation has established that the cause of anger is the failure by the project owners to compensate the affected individuals who lost assets in the project.
Most of the affected villagers did not want to talk to us when we visited the area at Siliya Village in Traditional Authority Nkalo in Chiradzulu where the road is taking shape and expressed fear about revealing their identities claiming they had been intimidated by some of their chiefs when they tried to claim for compensation.
One villager whose house was demolished claimed chiefs in the area had been instructed to stop their subjects from pursuing the matter further.
He said: “Several people including myself, lost property during construction of the road, but when we pushed for compensation, which we were promised by officials of the district council, we were told that the President was not happy and would withdraw the project.”
Village Head Siliya in an interview on December 21 2016 said the villagers barred the contractor from completing the project due to disagreements over compensation between them and the “owners” of the project. Some few houses gave way to the project. Some people claimed that their gardens, trees and other properties had been destroyed.”
He corroborated the fact that this irked Mutharika who wanted to abandon the project.
Said Siliya: “What I know is that the road project has re-started after a break. Some people chased the contractor as they had been promised compensation by District Council officials. But a few weeks ago, we met with the villagers and resolved to ask the President to go ahead with the project.”
The chief said Mutharika is believed to have bought the land in the area last year and intends to construct a house at the farm overlooking Bingu wa Mutharika’s Casablanca Manor at Ndata in Thyolo.
The administrator of roads in the country, Roads Authority (RA), disowned the project last Monday, saying they are not aware of it.
“We are not aware of the authority or institution that is responsible for the civil works currently underway on the said road. As you may be aware, we are not the only highway authority in the country,” said RA spokesperson Portia Kajanga in an e-mail response.
“Other institutions such as Ministry of Lands, city and district councils, and even Malawi Housing Corporation, do also function as highway authorities when such roads are constructed in their estates or areas of jurisdiction.”
Chiradzulu district commissioner Memory Kaleso who claimed to have been in office for three days, said the road is not a district council sanctioned project.
Said Kaleso: “As far as this office is concerned, that is not our project. The reason being that as councils, we do not build tarmac roads unless it is a city council.”
She said the only role the council played was facilitating assessment for compensation.
Said Kaleso: “We forwarded all the details to State House and since then we have not heard anything about it. The funds [for compensation] were not going to come from the council because it is not our project. Of course, the funds could be channelled through the council, but they will not come from us.”
But presidential spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani in an e-mailed response while confirming the road was leading to Mutharika’s farm said it is a public road and not a private one and that the upgrade was requested by the local community.
Said Kalilani: “The report the President received is that when work started, only a sign post at the turn-off to the road and a grass thatched hawker which was too close to the road were affected. These will be replaced soon.”
He also said the road was only to be upgraded, maintained and rehabilitated and not turned into bitumen status.
“The President contracted a private contractor. He offered to help the community by upgrading it at his own cost as a member of that community since he has a farm there,” said Kalilani.
“The project was not to construct a new road. The road has been there for many years only that it was in very bad shape. No clearing or excavating of new land or cutting of people’s trees was to be involved. The President only offered to upgrade it to make it user-friendly.”
A Weekend Nation visit to the site on December 21 2016 found that the road is being upgraded to level one. Workers and plants for a private firm were fixing culverts on the road at Siliya Village.
Kalilani could not disclose how much Mutharika has spent on the project. However, road construction and upgrades are expensive investments.
For instance, RA recently upgraded the 33.3-kilometre stretch of the Malowa-Goliati-Chiperoni Road in Thyolo to the same level at a total cost of K4.7 billion.
This means the 7-kilometre stretch to Mutharika’s farm will cost close to K1.2 billion or a quarter of the President’s foreign wealth.
As of last March, Mutharika was holding $2 million (K3.4 billion) in a foreign bank in the United States of America, according to the Office of the Director of Public Officers Declaration (ODPD). His monthly salary is K1.5 million. n