Hopes of the resident s of Lilongwe getting respite soon from taps that are fast drying as the city ’s population surges are fading as the $500 million (K400 billion) Lilongwe-Salima Water project is facing opposition in boardrooms of major multilateral donors, and in court.
The High Court in Zomba on Friday ordered a judicial review of the Lake Malawi water project following an application by Malawi Law Society (MLS).
The court also ordered government and Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) to release all contractual documents on the project. Outside the court, however, Nation on Sunday can reveal that the project has seen the World Bank, which was supposed to fund another another Lilongwe water supply project t h e Diamphwe Dam—also raising questions over the Lilongwe-Salima Water project.
The Bank, which pulled out of the Diamphwe project over chaos over the project’s resettlement plan, has queries over the Lilongwe-Salima project relating to financial feasibility of the and on the absence of an environmental feasibility study.
Government has since confirmed that Mindister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe has written the World Bank, pleading with it to reconsider its position on supporting the planned two ambitious water projects amid reports that it is unhappy with both projects.
World Bank officials, according to two government sources, raised questions on the costs of the LilongweSalima water project in meetings with senior Treasury officials.
The bank is yet to respond to our questionnaire on the matter, but Secretary to the Treasury Ben Botolo confirmed in an interview that Treasury has been holding discussions with the bank over the two projects. Gondwe himself could not be reached on several attempts during the week, and he is reportedly out of the country.
“I can confirm that Honourable Gondwe wrote a letter to the World Bank to reconsider its position. The letter basically explains the state of condition of both projects and we are yet to receive a response,” said Botolo.
He added : “ It is important to note that the World Bank is not against the LilongweSalima Water project, however, they raised a few areas for clarification. We are working with them to address the issues of the construction and feasibility study as requested. Our priority is both projects and we will seek funding for both.”
Nation on Sunday further understands from sources at Capital Hill, close to the Bank and Treasury’s discussions, that the Bank’s main bone of contention on the LilongweSalima project is the financing model being used, and the lack of a feasibility study.
According to one of the sources, the Bank was at an advanced stage of the funding agreement for the Diamphwe project when concerns over the Lake Malawi project, and questions over the resettlement plan forced it to pull the plug on the Diamphwe project.
“Now government’s message to the Bank has been that ‘we have heard your concerns about the Salima project, but you cannot expect government to pull out of the Salima project when you have at the same time frozen the Diamphwe project’.
“ The Bank has told government that the Salima project is way too expensive and questionable, but the government is now saying ‘fund us first the Diamphwe project’,” said the source.
He added that while the Bank did not raise the concerns of the Salima project formally, as it is not directly involved in the project and is not going to finance it, it used bilateral engagements with government on the Diamphwe project to raise its concerns.
“The letter by the Minister is one way of assuring the Bank that government takes the concerns seriously,” added the source.
In court, among other issues, MLS wants LWB’s contractor for the project, Khato Holdings Limited to stop all activities on the project pending the judicial review, but in his ruling, Judge Redson Kapindu reserved his position on the matter pending a hearing by both sides of the issue.
The court has, therefore, directed that the application for an interlocutory injunction should be made inter parties, to be heard on May 9 2017.
Khato Holdings , which is owned by South Africa-based Malawian engineering magnet Simbi Phiri is not named as a party to the case with the application, citing LWB as first respondent, Minister of Agriculture and Water Development as second respondent, Director of Environmental Affairs as third respondent and Minister of Natural Resources and Mining as the fourth respondent.
Attorney General (AG) Kalekeni Kaphale yesterday’s coffed at the injunction as “ unnecessary ” a n d waste of time, saying his office already advised the law society that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will be conducted and that government had advised the contractor to halt operations pending the same.
“ MLS just wants to attract attention. I already gave them advice on the matter. They are now just trying to be relevant. The contractor is not on the ground pending the issue of the EIA. The Department of Environmental Affairs already assured them the EIA will be done. It is a waste of time, actually, a criminal waste of time,” said Kaphale.
MLS president Khumbo Soko acknowledged the court ruling in an interview and said MLS lawyers will file documents on Monday for interparty proceedings.
“We made an application for a leave for judicial review and the court has granted that. The court has further ordered Lilongwe Water Board to release all contract documents,” said Soko.
In a statement signed by Soko and MLS secretary Michael Goba Chipeta, the law society said its move was prompted by ‘grave concern’ over the implementation of the Lilongwe-Salima project without compliance to the Environmental Management Act, which makes mandatory an EIA.
“The law society maintains its position that that there can be no sustainable development without scrupulous compliance with the law,” reads the statement in part.
The Diamphwe project included investments in the Diamphwe Multipurpose Dam on the lower Diampwhe River, a water treatment plant, and a transmission line that will pump water from Diamphwe Dam to the water treatment plant.
But Nation on Sunday revealed recently details how the resettlement plan by LWB and Ministry of Water and Irrigation led to fears of corruption.