Last month Lilongwe and Blantyre city councils received a boost of K1.8 billion to tarmac their roads. This is obviously a good development. It will reduce the number of dusty streets in our shanty compounds which contribute to respiratory diseases in summer and are muddy and impassable in the rainy season. The rehabilitation of these roads will go a long away in making travelling comfortable, smooth and fast.
However, city councils should ensure that the money is put to good use. Government has been losing a lot of money to road contractors. It is a common practice for contractors to overprice their goods and services. Incidentally, part of the money (for the other layer of the road) has found its way back to officials and politicians through bribery.
Rather than allow contractors to dictate the terms, city councils should do it. They should estimate how much each road costs per kilometre and allow contractors a reasonable mark up. All these roads have short distances. They should not cost much. The councils should guard against losing money in this way.
Another major concern is that some road contractors do not have capacity to construct quality roads. They do not have proper equipment and lack civil engineering skills. A visit to Lilongwe, Blantyre or Mzuzu reveals that some roads constructed a few years ago have already developed “swimming pools”. Yet the contractors were paid a lot of money for poor work and you wonder how officials could justify the cost. A road is meant to last many years. Quality is one element that councils should emphasise on. Before payment is made, there should be physical inspection of the road by a team of relevant stakeholders, not just one person. Payment should only be made when they are satisfied that the work has successfully been completed. We know that contractors have been conniving with officials at various levels to get contracts through bribery. There is need to put a stop to this tendency if the country is to move forward.
One lesson that should be learnt from Cashgate is that those who handle contracts cannot be trusted. We have seen how high ranking officials in government sanctioned payments for goods that were not delivered. One cannot understand how government could pay companies for goods that were not supplied. What happened to the control system? It is important that city councils should put in place measures to ensure that only deserving contractors are awarded contracts.
There should be checks and balances in awarding contracts. For example, no contract should be awarded without bidding and incompetent contractors should be given any work. Contractors with criminal records should not be allowed to bid for projects. The Anti-Corruption Bureau should be involved in scrutinising bids.