Members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament have expressed fear that the extension of the deadline to complete the Kamuzu Barrage rehabilitation project will result in needless cost overruns that will burden the taxpayer.
Initially, the $50 million (about K37 billion) project at Liwonde, funded with a loan and some grants from the International Development Association (IDA) of the World bank under water related infrastructure component of the Shire River Basin Management Programme (SRBMP), had a January 31 2018 deadline.
Using its mandate as per Standing Order 161 to track how effectively the budgeted funds have been used, the committee has expressed worry at the implication of the delays in completing the project within the specified time.
Committee chairperson Alekeni Menyani said in an interview yesterday huge sums have been borrowed from the World Bank for infrastructure development which means the future generation has been tied up to these loans.
He said the Auditor General’s office has the mandate to look into the concerns from the taxpayers as far as the project of the Kamuzu Barrage is concerned.
Menyani added that the committee was investigating reports that the delays in finishing the barrage project had negatively affected the production of electricity. But the new generation company, Electricity Generation Company (Egenco) has faulted the low water levels for the persistent blackouts even after a sufficient rainy season.
He said: “We are also asking the Auditor General to start a government projects audit and find out why the contractor claims they need more finances in the middle of a project. We also request the World Bank to indicate to us their feelings towards the awarding of an international contract to a company whose track record is still sketchy.”
The barrage was opened in 1965 as a water level regulator in the Shire River and the project has the components for civil works, installation of barrage gates, a weed boom and weed collector but the government has confirmed that the deadline for completion would be moved up from November, 2017 to mid-2018 owing to delayed procurements of materials and starting of the project.
The committee has also identified for possible audit the project on the resurfacing of M1 road, the delayed completion of the Illovo to Midima Roundabout dual carriageway project and the Zomba-Jali-Phalombe-Chitakale Road which has remained stagnant 12 years after several loans were procured by government.
Menyani said the scope of the audit should include the identification of the contractors and vetting of sub-contractors, possible payment for sub-standard work.
National Audit Office spokesperson Rabson Kagwamminga said the audit of government projects was within the mandate of the Auditor General as provided for in Section 6 of the Public Audit Act.
However, Kagwamminga explained that sometimes the Auditor General subcontracts some of the audits to private firms depending on the terms of the financing agreement and the availability of resources.
Speaking on the status of financing of the Kamuzu Barrage upgrading, Ministry of Finance spokesperson Alfred Kutengule said the project completion would certainly be extended and the World Bank was aware.
However, he said the government was yet to formally write World Bank requesting an extension of project loan period. n