Escom’s plans to undertake another forensic investigation on its burnt former head offices in Blantyre have attracted a backlash from activists and commentators, with some of them describing the decision as a waste of public money.
Two weeks ago, Escom (Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi) placed an advert in the local newspapers, calling for a consultant to conduct a forensic assessment of the structural integrity of the burnt house, and to also make a rehabilitation proposal.
Escom board chairperson Thom Mpinganjira, in a telephone interview yesterday, defended the proposed exercise, saying Escom now wants to have both cost of reinstatement of the building as well as demolition to avoid another uproar like the one they received some eight months ago, which forced Escom to cancel a tender bid for a contract to demolish the building.
“Ordinarily, a decision such as reinstatement of the building was supposed to be made by Escom management,” he said. “But the board intervened and asked the management to get another quotation”
Asked on how much Escom has been budgeted for the fresh investigation, the Escom board chairperson referred Weekend Nation back to Escom’s spokesperson Innocent Chitosi, who asked for more time to give a response.
But commentators have quizzed the Escom probe after a similar investigation was done in February 2014, four months after the house was gutted by fire on October 28 2013.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, governance analyst Henry Chingaipe wondered why Escom wants another investigation, especially in light of plans to demolish the building.
He said Escom owes Malawians an explanation, adding that the whole thing looks suspicious, as it is giving an indication that perhaps Escom has no confidence in the results of the first investigation.
Said Chingaipe: “Escom uses public money and public money has to be respected.
But Mpinganjira yesterday insisted that the new investigation is in good faith.
“There is no corruption involved with this investigation. You must understand that because of the uproar which was there, it was best thought to have both costs before an informed decision is made.”
Plans for the fresh investigations also come eight months after Escom cancelled a tender the building at a cost of K675 million.bid for a contract to demolish
That time, Mpinganjira also justified the contract, arguing that there was no local expertise to demolish the building and the power utility company had engaged a contractor, Irrigwater and Mining Equipment, who was expected to bring equipment from South Africa.
Human Right Defenders Coalition (HRDC), a civil society grouping which earlier wrote Escom to cancel the contract to demolish the burnt building, has since cautioned Escom against proceeding with plans for a second forensic probe unless the parastatal provides a valid justification.
In an interview, HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo said Malawians have had enough of the financial mismanagement at Escom and warned the company against overstretching the people’s patience.
A brief report on the demolition of the Escom House, which we saw, indicates that five companies submitted bids for the contract which was issued on July 26 2018 and closed on September 28 the same year.
The companies were Roja Construction, which offered to demolish the building at K84.9 million; TOF Investment asked for K598.7 million, 6B Engineering Limited requested for K842.5 million, OG Construction’s bid was for K600.5 million, and Irrigwater and Mining Equipment demanded K675 million for the job.
Earlier, Mpinganjira said the minimum score, under the technical capacity, was 80 percent and the bidders were required to demonstrate expertise in demolishing similar structures, complete with sensitivity to environmental aspects and safety.
The report shows that Roja Construction scored 36.3 percent on the technical aspect, with TOF Investment scoring 62.2 percent, 6B Engineering Limited chalking up 55.8 percent, while OG Construction scored 64.1 percent and Irrigwater and Mining Equipment got 81.6 percent.
“This means only Irrigwater passed the technical evaluation,” reads the report, which further indicated that the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) granted the ‘no objection’ on April 8 2019.
In a separate interview, Youth and Society (YAS) executive director Charles Kajoloweka described Escom House as a crime scene, saying the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)-led administration has failed to act on a report by a Special Task team which investigated the cause of financial mess that prompted Escom to make an abortive request for a K53 billion bailout from Treasury.
In its confidential report, titled Report on Building and Unleashing Escom’s Potential in the New Environment, dated February 7 2019, the task team, chaired by Comptroller of Statutory Corporations Stuart Ligomeka, detailed a failure of procurement, stores, distribution, and financial management functions as well as indiscipline and a poor organisation culture.
The report says Escom has significant weaknesses in governance and operations, leading to high levels of fraud and theft of public resources.