Two government heavy construction machines that a firm hired in 2015 are stuck in Zambia and the company has not paid for them, a government official has confirmed.
The official says government would have earned a potential K300 million from the machines during the four years they have been stuck in Zambia.
Director for Central Materials Lab Mesheck Zimba confirmed that the machines were hired out to Shire Construction Company Limited (SCCL) to be deployed in Zambia for a four-week period.
The machines are an Ackar and Pilcon pelcan used for drilling stone and soil samples that are tested in laboratories to determine viability before commencement of construction works such as roads, bridges and tall buildings.
While the Zambian contract was for four weeks, government officials and the contractor say the agreement was for SCCL to use the machines for six months at a cost of K25 million.
Zimba said the deal to hire out the equipment to the private company was approved by the then minister of Transport and Public Works Francis Kasaila and director for roads Kelvin Mphonda.
When contacted, both Kasaila and Mphonda dismissed Zimba’s assertions, saying he should produce evidence showing that they appended their signatures to the said contract.
But a confidential memorandum we have seen shows that both Kasaila and Mphonda approved the request to hire out the equipment on July 21 2015.
In a memo, dated July 14 2015 Ref. No. ADM/1/2 titled ‘Request to carry out geotechnical investigations in the Eastern Region in Zambia by Central Materials Laboratory’ from then principal secretary Moffat Chitimbe to the minister, the PS indicated that SCCL wanted to hire both machines and their operators from CML.
The contractor committed to arrange for permits for the team to work in Zambia as well as paying for their expenses.
Reads the letter in part: “Shire Construction Company was awarded a contract by the Zambian government to construct bridges across the eastern region in Zambia. The contract is a design-and-build arrangement and Shire will design and construct the bridges.”
In a separate interview Mphonda also rubbished Zimba’s claims, saying the ministry only knew about the issue at a later stage when Capital Hill was inquiring about the status of the equipment.
But after being furnished with information, he summoned the contractor who made an undertaking to return the equipment.
In an interview, SCCL managing director Peter Malfense Fierro, while acknowledging that his company hired the machines and that they were still in Zambia, refused to divulge more details about the contract, saying it is confidential between SCCL and the Government of Malawi.
Dismissing suggestions that there might have on the transaction, Fierro nevertheless pointed out the company has complied with the contract terms and was further discussing outstanding issues with government. been some underhand dealing
Without disclosing the actual amount, Fierro claimed that his firm paid some money to government for the hire.
Leader for local contractors in the country, under the banner Malawi Building Contractors and Allied Trade Association (Mabucata), Wickly Mhango, feared that more government property might have been lost over the years because of lack of proper monitoring by officers.
There are instances whereby government property is hired without proper documentation and when officials involved retire, such property is never returned, observed Mhango.
When contacted Minister of Transport and Public Works Ralph Jooma said he was not aware of the issue and promised to follow up, to account for government property.
Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Transport and Public Infrastructure Robert Mwina promised to follow up the matter to its logical conclusion, saying it is high time government strengthened the monitoring systems and take stock of its property.