Questions have resurfaced over Escom’s move to continue importing wood poles from Zimbabwe despite supplies being available locally.
The Nation first reported in 2015 that the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) imported wood poles from Zimbabwe, sidelining local manufacturers who claimed they had capacity to supply the commodity.
Five years down the line the status quo remains, with Raiply Malawi claiming to have been sidestepped on a K2.5 billion deal opportunity in 2018.
Presently, the timber producer has an K800 million-worth idle stock of wood poles at its warehouse in Mzimba, a loss they claim could have been avoided if Escom had the welfare of local producers at heart.
Escom has since said Raiply has no moral ground to claim loss of business in “an open tender of procurement of poles they lost out on”.
Speaking during Minister of Labour Ken Kandodo’s familiarisation tour of Raiply facilities on Tuesday, Raiply Malawi spokesperson Dalitso Chimwala appealed to the minister to intervene on the matter, saying the issue is at the heart of the new administration’s job creation plan.
He said: “Our pole plant was established in 2005 after Escom asked if we could manage to supply them with poles. The pole plant has the capacity to produce 120 000 poles per annum. Escom last bought 1 000 poles.
“They stopped buying from Raiply in 2016, claiming that we were not meeting standards. Raiply invited the South African Bureau of Standards to conduct tests in the presence of Escom and Mera [Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority], but still no orders followed.”
Chimwala said since then the pole plant has been idle with most of its staff losing their jobs.
He said: “The Pole Plant had 37 employees, but now there are only seven, meaning 30 people lost their jobs. If Escom could start buying poles from us, we would recall those who lost their jobs and possibly employ more.”
But Escom public relations manager Innocent Chitosi in a written response said Raiply was not successful in the bidding process of 2018.
He said procurement of poles is a process and “as such, there is need to adhere to set guidelines in the tender document”.
“In terms of quality, technically a well-matured and well-treated pole that meets technical requirements can last over 15 years after being installed. However, there is a concern that poles from Raiply rot within two to three years,” Chitosi said.
But Chimwala argued that this concern was addressed when the South African Bureau of Standards together with Escom and Mera carried out tests at the facility.
“That facility was established following Escom guidelines, so how can something that they helped create fall so short that they would allow the country lose billions in import and millions through job losses.
“If you compare our costs and standards of poles in the long-term, we are more competitive and of great value to the nation. Let Escom highlight the shortfalls if there are any and Raiply is more than ready to address them. Raiply shares government’s dream of job creation but that can happen if the investors realises returns from investment,” he said.
Kandodo said his ministry will engage Escom to consider getting supplies locally.
“Truth be told, Raiply is producing export quality products. It is surprising that Escom and other customers prefer to import the same products yet the standards at Raiply are as good as those you find elsewhere,” he said.
Kandodo said his ministry has been tasked with the responsibility to come up with a strategy on job creation. He said the tour of Raiply was part of the ministry’s initiative to hold consultations with the private sector on job creation