Compensation squabbles and rainy season challenges have stalled progress in the construction of the K40 billion (about $ 56.5million) Lilongwe-Kasiya-Santhe Road barely six months after the three-year project commenced.
During the launch of the 95-kilometre road project last September, President Peter Mutharika was confident that the new tarmac road will connect several tobacco-growing rural areas to Kasungu Municipality, which lies on the M1 Road running across the length of the country from Nsanje to Chitipa.
But some observers have wondered why such a short-haul road should have such a hefty cost tag.
And this becomes the second road project after the Jenda-Edingeni Road in Mzimba District to be disturbed by compensation queries. The 15-kilometre first phase stretch in the Jenda-Edingeni Road project is valued at K2.3 billion (about $ 3.2million).
On Saturday, it was established that some gloss has worn off the Kasiya Road project.
Several family members—through whose property the road is earmarked to pass—have literally called a halt to the road construction because they feel they have been inadequately compensated for their houses, open plots, gardens and trees which have to give way to the project.
The Nation’s site visit on Saturday showed that eight kilometres of the road, from the Lilongwe-Mchinji Road Turn-off, has been tarred—on a first-coating basis—by contractor Mota-Engil, the Portuguese industrial and construction conglomerate.
The contractor has also cleared the road path for a further four kilometres, to Mbabzi River.
But push has come to shove at the Four-Ways Trading Centre near Makalani Village, where the hot compensation queries have reared their ugly heads.
“We have truly ordered a stop to this road project. Much as this is an important and exciting project in this area, why should we allow to be robbed over it through unfair compensation for our lost property?” charged businessperson Nelson Zintambira from Sankhani Chigwedera Village near the trading centre in Traditional Authority (T/A) Njewa’s area in Lilongwe.
The Zintambira family, including Nelson’s younger brother Joseph, is believed to own the biggest land area at the trading centre. The family has a modern house and gardens on its land.
The family is unhappy over the ‘meagre’ compensation received for its Ndatherapano Bar, a four-roomed house, another two-roomed building and a garden. It received K6.4 million for the bar, K2 million for the four-roomed house, another K500 000 for the smaller building and K172 000 for what was reported to be “compensation for crops”.
However, the family is saying the compensation for the house and the crops were grossly unfair.
“I have constructed another house, but even before I begin roofing, the K2 million compensation is virtually gone [used up],” lamented the elder Zintambira, whose family is now temporarily housed in his younger brother’s house.
He alleged that the evaluators did a bad job by showing favouritism to some people who got comparatively more money for their mud and wattle structures.
“I have since written a query letter to the Ministry of Lands [Housing and Urban Development] about this and I have demanded a re-evaluation of my property because I clearly deserve much more money for my property,” declared Zintambira.
Brian Chunda, settled on a one-hectare plot bought years ago from the Zintambiras, readily joined those who fault the evaluation process that preceded the compensations given to people in the area.
“In the first place, those mapping the road shifted the road to our [less developed] side. They have clearly avoided following the original road map that could have seen the dismantling of one or two of the modern houses on the other side of this road.
“We, therefore, feel unfairly targeted. And the paltry compensation sums just add insult to injury over this matter. So, the project truly has to halt, until justice is seen to be done,” he added.
Chunda has also stopped a Central Region Water Board trench-digging exercise to dredge through part of his maize garden, without giving him prior notice or compensation.
Mota-Engil spokesperson Thomas Chafunya explained that as a contractor, the company depends on the government, the project owners, to handle and comment on matters affecting the project.
Roads Fund Administration (RFA) public relations officer Masauko Mngwaluko said compensation squabbles are becoming a common occurrence in the modernisation of most roads in the country these days.
He explained that so far, compensation to people on the 12-kilometre Kasiya Road, stretch partly tarred and cleared, has totalled K1.1 billion.
“This means the contractor [Mota-Engil] is free to complete working on this stretch. As for the compensation queries, these normally attract re-evaluations by experts and district officials, to ensure fairness and transparency,” Mngwaluko stated.
He said: “We [RFA] jealously safeguard the taxpayer’s money and will not pay out increased compensation unless we are convinced that the payment is on a verified, fair and value-for-money basis.”
Mngwaluko declined to confirm whether the compensation issues were the major issues to have forced the contractors to appear to be withdrawing their heavy-duty road construction machines on the Kasiya project.
However, he noted that the road construction implementing agency, the Roads Authority (RA), and their contractors normally scale down operations during the rainy season, between December and March.
Minister of Transport and Public Works Francis Kasaila admitted that many strategic road projects are being paralysed by bloated expectations that government must pay out heavy compensations, even to people who flouted the law by constructing in road reserves.
He said: “It is a complex issue and, definitely, the [compensation] amounts they are demanding are huge and it is becoming difficult for the government to honour such claims. This is money we could have used for putting up more public infrastructure.”
Kasaila said to correct the anomally, the government has erected new road reserve boundaries on the M1 Road, to dissuade people from encroachment. He, however, expressed concern that some people have gone ahead to encroach on the new road reserve areas already, urging that there be civic education that should check the problem.
The Lilongwe-Kasiya-Santhe Road is expected to provide an alternative route to Santhe and Kasungu through Kasiya, an agricultural-rich rural area in Lilongwe. Besides, the road will also have a seven-kilometre spur into Kasiya Trading Centre.
Currently, Santhe and Kasungu are only accessed by an all-weather road through Kamwendo in Mchinji from the Lilongwe West direction. The other route is the M1 Road through Mponela and Madisi trading centres in Dowa which is about 120 kilometres long.