Recently, the social media has been flooded with photographs of the newly constructed Nsanje-Marka Road being washed away on bridge approaches in the Lower Shire.
It is not new to see a new road and bridge being washed away before the contractor even hands it over to government.
The backlash that includes calls for the lynching of the construction companies involved has become a perennial song.
Oftentimes, the old-guard have pointed at the good ole days before democracy when such occurrences were unheard of. If a State-funded contractor did this during the one-party rule of founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda, they say, numerous heads would roll and the contractor would definitely get severely punished.
Those were the days!
Then only a construction company toying with death would even dare spell “wash away” in the presence of authorities.
It is true that roads, bridges and other structures
constructed during that era are still standing in usable state.
Should we conclude that during that period, the clients, design engineers, construction companies and supervising consultants were more serious about standards than now?
Should we lynch all contractors to get rid of substandard works once and for all?
We need to analyse this soberly. In normal cases, issues to do with designs and poor workmanship are well tackled within the specific contracts.
Where required, the Malawi Engineering Institution and the National Construction Industry Council Acts provide an array of remedies. This is not our main concern today. Today, we are tackling the root cause.
The major problem with engineering works since the dawn of democracy has been funding of public projects such as roads and bridges.
While the nation desires designs that would withstand the test of time, this comes with a huge cost.
So the outcome depends on how much the government is willing to spend on the projects.
During one-party rule, that was easy. The government would choose where to construct the durable roads and no one would question.
But democracy has put a strain on politicians to allocate resources equitably. Each of the 193 constituencies wants a piece of the national cake.
This forces politicians to provide low-budget projects based on low-cost designs.
So the problem has never been with the design engineers, consultants, construction companies or the government agencies.
Rather, it is the democratic citizen’s high expectations that put politicians between a hard rock and a hard place.
When it comes to public capital projects, elected politicians are left with two hard choices: They can provide few durable capital projects to few areas across the country and get booted out of government by the excluded majority at the end of the five-year term or provide a million cheap, low-quality projects to many parts and get re-elected.
It is a tough task for politicians.
As citizens we find it difficult to accept durable capital projects chosen through prioritising, yet are also not ready to accept low quality equitable projects that serve more people.
Our insatiable expectation often pushes government to borrow locally or outside the country to implement some projects that we could do without. But massive borrowing ties our children and their children to a york of unnecessary debt!
The government must step up and step in to restore sanity.
There has to be an open dialogue on our actual financial position and priorities as a country.
We need to teach basic public finance under civics as a subject in primary schools. A well informed citizenry is likely to make better decisions when it comes to matters affecting their lives and nation.
Lastly, we need a legislation that ties all parties to align their manifestos to Malawi 2063—the national long-term strategy—to avoid campaign promises that excite the citizenry with unattainable promises. A better Malawi is possible