By December 2013, four areas across the country should have worn a new face as rural growth centres. So why has progress lagged? JOHN CHIRWA tackles the issue in this third article in a series on rural growth centres.
A grass-thatched house still standing on a piece of land meant for a bypass road is a symbol of how the issue of compensation is delaying completion of Jenda Rural Growth Centre in Mzimba.
Construction of the road has not stopped, but it is being done in patches, leaving out areas where communities are yet to relocate.
For Gloria Kamanga, who owns one of the houses, this has been a cause for anguish. While two of Kamanga’s neighbours relocated after receiving their compensation, she continues to live as a stranger in her own house.
“I don’t know when I will receive my compensation to relocate. Graders come here almost every day and work a few metres away from my home. This has caused cracks on the walls of my house. I am afraid that one day the house will collapse on us,” said a worried Kamanga.
She is not the only one crying out over the lack of compensation.
Albert Banda, who lives in Malizweni Village in the area, claimed that he is yet to receive K4 million for his two houses which are on a piece of land designated for a bus depot.
“I have two houses earmarked for demolition. An assessment conducted in 2012 established that I should receive K4 million. Out of this, I received K15 000 (US$36) for my trees only. They told me that my name is missing for the two houses,” said Banda, who is yet to relocate from the site.
Davis Luhanga has a house that was earmarked for demolition. He said out of K1.8 million (US$4 286) that was due to him, he received K23 000 (US$55) only.
“Initially, 30 of us were lined up for relocation and compensation to pave way for construction of a telecentre, depot, market, bypass road and parking area. Most people received their compensation late last year, but 13 of us are yet to be compensated because our names were missing.
“The problem is that I can’t maintain my house because I don’t know when I will relocate,” said Luhanga.
Contractors of the 2.5-km bypass road, Northworks Limited, said the slow progress in relocating people has affected progress on project.
Northworks site foreman Maxon Munthali said they are constructing the road in patches due to this problem.
The situation has meant that payments for contractors have been coming in dribs and drabs. Besides the bypass road, this has also affected construction of other structures at the proposed rural growth centre.
Robert Mcadada travelled from Lilongwe in November 2013 to work for Thabale Building Contractors. Mcadada said he is one of the workers building wards, a mortuary and an ambulance shelter at Jenda Rural Hospital as well as administration and laboratory blocks at Jenda Community Day Secondary School.
But he said since November 2013, he received his first salary in February 2014.
Mcadada said the situation forced the employees to abandon work for two months, dragging the projects further.
“Tentatively, we were supposed to complete construction by the end of last year. Due to the problems of payments and construction materials, the projects stalled for two months. But things have normalised now and we are doing the final touches on the buildings,” he said.
Contractors at Jenda told Weekend Nation that receiving funding from donors has been a big hurdle that has affected the projects.
“To get funds for construction purposes from donors requires a long procedure which ultimately impacts on progress to complete the projects.
“The process requires that we go through the consultant, Local Development Fund, Ministry of Finance, African Development Bank country office, then their head office in Tunisia, their bank in US, corresponding contractor’s bank in US and Malawi.
“Between September and October, they were not remitting payments. This forced some of us to use our own funds to pay workers and procure building materials,” said Richard Kokoliko, director of Kokoliko Construction Company.
Jenda is one of the four rural growth centres benefiting from the Local Economic Development (LED) project which is under the Local Development Fund (LDF). The other three growth centres are Monkey Bay in Mangochi, Malomo in Ntchisi and Chitekesa in Phalombe.
The LED project is being implemented with a loan of $25 million (about K10 billion), co-financed by the African Development Fund, World Bank and the Government of Malawi.
LED seeks to improve the socio-economic well-being of the local population and strengthen economic growth by deepening enterprise development, promoting rural growth centres, enhancing the capacity of local authority and management of technical knowledge.
Under the component of promotion of rural growth centres, LED project’s appraisal report developed in 2008 envisages that rural economic growth can be kick-started through provision of basic socio-economic infrastructure which will make a rural growth centre attractive to investors.
The rationale is that this will happen because the four rural growth centres are strategically located in areas that have the potential for economic activities in terms of industrialisation, improved service industry and promotion of tourism and agricultural trade.
“Except for Chitekesa, all the other designated rural growth centres are classified as Main Market Centres by the National Physical Development Plan. These sites are currently flourishing as robust commercial, agricultural and fish marketing centres with the potential to grow into urban centres,” says the report.
According to the report, the LED project was approved in September 2008.
The loan was effective from March 2009 and the projects were expected to be through by December 2013.
But LDF director for urban development, Mike Moyo, said the five-year-project will go on up to December 2014 because the loan was effective from 2009.
He agreed with the contractors that it takes time for payments to be processed, but argued that this should not be an excuse for the contractors to miss deadlines.
According to Moyo, it takes a minimum of 28 days for payment to be processed.
He said contractors were given 20 percent advance payments, saying the money was enough for them to continue the projects during the period funding was not remitted.
Moyo said LDF set up December 2013 as the deadline for completion of the projects, but due to the problems experienced, the deadline was extended to May 2014.
“What we wanted was that by end of February, construction should be complete. But now we have extended further to mid-May.
“We have given the contractors a warning because they are the main problem in failing to complete construction on time,” he said.
Moyo said the projects have been divided into two categories: those that need less than K200 million such as telecentres, police units, hospital wards and school blocks and larger ones such as markets, bus depots, bypass roads, water and electricity supply.
“The smaller projects are 90 percent complete while the larger ones are at 30 percent. We expect that the larger ones should be complete by November,” he said.
Moyo said the construction process at Malomo and Monkey Bay is more advanced than at Jenda and Chitekesa.
He said smaller projects at Malomo have been handed over to government while those at Monkey Bay will be transferred after Easter.
According to Moyo, the issue of compensation should not be a problem to meet deadlines because money for compensation is readily available.
“Only a few of them are yet to receive compensation due to some technical problems. But the majority of them already received their money,” he said.