Seven years after it was hatched, where are we on the Greenbelt Initiative (GBI)? EPHRAIM NYONDO visited Chikwawa Scheme in Salima—the only of the four pilot sites which shows signs of hope—where, again, construction stopped last year.
By now, Chikwawa Green Belt Initiative Scheme in Salima should have been completed. In fact, the impatiently waiting 250 local farmers around the scheme could have started reaping benefits. Each farmer has already been allocated two hectares at the scheme where they will be, at first, trained how to grow sugarcane and then left to continue.
If the scheme becomes fully functional, it will provide direct jobs to almost 6 000 Malawians and surrounding areas will likely develop into another Nchalo in Chikwawa or Dwangwa in Nkhotakota.
The scheme—which is 6 000 hectares and will be a sugar estate—is one of the four pilot sites of the Greenbelt Initiative (GBI). It is located in traditional authorities (T/As) Mwanza and Khombedza in Salima.
The other sites include: 1 000 hectares Nthola-Ilonga-Ngosi, Paramount Chief Kyungu, Karonga; Malombe Irrigation Scheme in T/A Chowe in Mangochi which is 500 hectares; and 500 hectares Chilengo Scheme in T/A Makuwira, Chikwawa.
However, of the four, it is only Chikwawa Scheme that shows some signs of progress. At least K1 billion (US$2.2 million) has so far been invested in its construction. This might be the reason former president Joyce Banda, speaking during the opening of the 2013/2014 budget meeting, declared that government planned to complete the construction of Chikwawa Scheme in that fiscal year.
Two years after the declaration, however, the scheme, which The Nation visited in May this year to appreciate progress, remains uncompleted. A tour around the scheme showed that construction of a pump house, pipeline installation, centre pivot installation, construction of balancing reservoir and land preparation was almost done. What was remaining was electricity connection.
Despite the visible progress, though, the place looked dead and deserted—security guards here, waiting local farmers there. Yet, there was no construction taking place at the site. The contractor, according to one of the guards, withdrew from the site early last year. They have not resumed work since.
What, then, could be the problem?
to what the GBI secretariat presented to Vice-President Saulos Chilima last year, government owed the contractor K963.8 million (US$2.2 million) in arrears and K278.2 million (US$625 169) in bank interest charges.
“The cost for remaining works, including remobilisation is K613.5 million. The total amount of money required to complete the work and have running water is K1.8 billion (US$4 million),” reads the document.
Additionally, the document presented to the veep added: “In terms of time, the contractor indicated that 90 percent of equipment is already on site and the remaining component is largely to be done by Escom.
“Factoring in time for procurement process and installation, the contractor estimates that it may take between 8-10 weeks. When operations start, there will be need for farm management services [sugar cane seed, fertiliser supply, crop protection and all agronomical services],” it reads.
GBI national coordinator Henrie Njoloma confirmed in an interview that the contractor left last year because of non-payment.
“Construction was indeed suspended. At first we thought we were not affected by Cashgate. But when the Baker Tilly Report was released, we were surprised to learn we were one of the affected institutions,” says Njoloma.
Underlining that almost 85 percent of the work has already been completed at the site, Njoloma says in the 2014/2015 financial year, they had to convince the contractor to return and finalise the work.
“We presented a budget of K2 billion (US$4.5 million) to Treasury. However, we only got K400 million (US$898 876) yet we had a K1 billion (US$2.2 million) payment to make. We failed to get the contractor back on site,” he says.
Even when Njoloma is hopeful that Treasury will release the funds in the current fiscal year (2015/2016), there are fears that government will cough more to get the contractor back.
The contract agreement The Nation has seen which government signed with the contractor, puts government under obligation to pay for bank interest charges to the contractor as contained in clause 47 of the contract.
It reads: “Payments shall be adjusted for deductions for advance payments and retention. The employer shall pay the contractor the amounts certified by the project manager within ninety  days of the date of each certificate.
“If the employer makes a late payment, the contractor shall be paid interest on the late payment in the next payment. Interest shall be calculated from the date by which the payment should have been made up to the date when the late payment is made at the prevailing rate of interest for commercial borrowing for each of the currencies in which payments are made.”
Despite that, Njoloma is upbeat that in the next 16 months, the scheme will be functional.
“We have already finished the irrigation infrastructure which stands at 85 percent. If that is done, we will start planting sugar cane. There are already 250 local farmers each with two hectares who will be doing this. However, for everything to start we need money. Besides that, we also need electric power which we have already paid for to Escom. We are just waiting for connection,” he says.
MONDAY: With hope, albeit fading, at the only hopeful site of Chikwawa due to erratic financial supply from the treasury, is GBI, one the whole, really working?