Owing to contractual hitches with a South Africa-based consultant, the Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) has for some time been unable to issue new number plates bearing district codes except for Nsanje and Phalombe.
Ministry of Transport and Public Works spokesperson Ganizani Liwewe confirmed the development in an e-mailed response, saying the ministry is aware of the situation.
According to him, when DRTSS exhausted its new number plates it was supposed to sequence for spaces for new ones. To do this the department needs to use the system currently manned by the consultant in South Africa.
Said Liwewe: “There were a number of contractual issues between government and Movesa and Fischer Consultants beyond the matter of payment of fees. These have been addressed following discussions held last week, which were led by the Attorney General. Service has, therefore, been restored.”
By 2019 the department owed Fisher Consulting K600 million, out of a contract sum of about K1.6 billion (R38 million) for upgrading Malawi Traffic Information System (Maltis).
However, Liwewe refused to say how much government still owes the contractor.
He added that with respect to issuing of new number plates, the directorate will issue a press release in due course as the ones being issued are on trial basis.
The challenges rocking DRTSS follow efforts by government during the past years to take full control of an upgraded Maltis from the South Africa-based consultant
On at least two occasions, government was forced to extend the contract with consultant Gerrit Fischer, who owns Fischer Consulting, to iron out outstanding issues such as skills transfer to local staff and outstanding payment.
Fischer was yet to respond to our questionnaire sent on Thursday on whether the differences with government of Malawi have indeed been resolved.
But in an earlier WhatsApp response, the consultant pointed out that the contract with DRTSS introduces an obligation of confidentiality and, therefore, it was not appropriate to provide detailed responses surrounding the deal.
Commenting on the matter, Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director John Kapito observed that it is strange that a consultant can dictate government in this manner.
He pointed out that at one time Cama tried to follow up on how the contract was signed and that government officials kept running away and giving excuses to provide details.
Said Kapito: “A consultant is hired to do a job and is told what to do, but it seems we have a situation whereby a consultant is dictating the terms and conditions to government, which is the employer. This is unheard of and one can conclude that the level of corruption that formed part of this contract is the one that is making government to be speechless.”
In a telephone interview on Thursday, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Gift Trapence called on government to review some contractual agreements which are not serving the interest of Malawians.
He wondered why citizens should be held at ransom by a contractor while government stands watching helplessly.
Said Trapence: “As HRDC, we already made our position known on issues at DRTSS and government has to speed up the process of reviewing such contracts. The issue of free movement and economic right is for every Malawian, and people are being denied such rights by failing to register vehicles bearing their preferred choice of code.”
On his part, Parliamentary Committee on Transport chairperson Uchizi Mkandawire urged government to resolve the issues surrounding the deal swiftly to avoid inconveniencing Malawians.
He nonetheless hailed DRTSS for resolving hitches in the shortest period of time, saying Parliament is ready to mediate where necessary.
In an earlier wrangle between DRTSS and the consultant, the former gave the latter a January 2019 deadline—six months after the initial deadline elapsed—to hand over the system, which includes a source code for the system currently being operated from South Africa.