Most sections of the M1 between Lilongwe and Karonga are in bad state and a death trap despite the Malawi Government securing a K129 billion funding from the European Union (EU) for the rehabilitation of the road.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Roads Authority (RA) chief executive officer Engineer Emmanuel Matapa described the M1 as being in a dire state after outliving its lifespan, thereby posing a danger to road users.
He said it was in the best interest of Malawians to have the road rehabilitated as soon as possible. However, he said the rehabilitation cannot be fast-tracked due to donor-laid- out guidelines to be fulfilled.
“We would love to move with speed, but this is donor-driven. There are guidelines to be followed so that we do not compromise on governance and the EU is particular about that. But so far we have made good progress,” Matapa said.
But two officials, one from Ministry of Finance and another from RA, faulted the EU for putting in place “cumbersome procedures”, including hiring of foreign experts or technical assistants to supervise the project. They said the donor’s demands have delayed the roll-out of the project.
The official from RA confided that the technical assistants were
was corroborated by two other construction engineers.
On the other hand, a source at Ministry of Finance said the “cumbersome procedures” were a result of the EU’s lack of trust in the system due to corruption.
The Treasury official said: “It is how they [the EU] look at us. They have no trust in the system such that they have to bring their own people to supervise the work.
“I do not mind donors having their own guidelines. My only issue is when they work at their own pace at the expense of our needs. We applied for this loan because we have a desperate situation on the ground. The delay does not help us at all.”
But Matapa backed the donor, saying the strict procedures were meant to ensure value for money.
On its part, the EU said the project is complex and that the inclusion of the foreign experts was a global standard in their funded projects.
EU programme manager for Economic Cooperation and Public Sector Odran Hayes justified the delay and recruitment of the technical assistants, saying after signing the financial agreement, there were more processes to be completed.
“The technical consultant was competitively recruited by international tender and needed to be onsite prior to the commencement of the tender for works to undertake key tasks such as the final review of the detailed designs. This, of course, takes time, but is normal for these types of projects and is not in itself a delay to project implementation,” he said.
Hayes also said Covid-19 delayed some processes, but said together with RA they are working to minimise the cost of the delay. He downplayed the financial consequence of such delay, saying a significant part of the raw materials will be sourced locally.
He said: “It is difficult to predict if the cost of materials will go up or down but it should be noted that a significant part of the raw materials, such as sand and rocks [will be sourced locally].”
The rehabilitation project of the M1 is divided into four sections; from Kamuzu International Airport to Kasungu, Kasungu to Jenda, Jenda to Mzimba Turn-Off and Kacheche to Chiweta.
In his maiden State of the Nation Address delivered in Parliament on September 4, President Lazarus Chakwera said rehabilitation of the M1 stretch between Lumbadzi in Lilongwe and Mzimba Turn-Off will be prioritised this financial year.
In November 2019, the Malawi Government and the EU signed a financial agreement for 139 million euro (about K129 billion) as contribution towards the rehabilitation of over 347 km of the M1. From the amount, 95.5 million euro was a loan from European Investment Bank and 43.1 million euro a grant from the EU.
The delay to start actual work is happening in the face of a study conducted by the RA with funding from Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) last year which condemned most parts of the M1 between Lilongwe and Karonga. The report acknowledges that the road poses a serious danger to users.
Reads the report in part: “The existing road has a number of potholes and cracks have developed in many places, making passage of vehicles extremely difficult. Current efforts by the RA to maintain the road surface by carrying out routine maintenance in the form of patching, reconstruction of washed away sections and drainage improvement have proved ineffective and costly.”
Due to the bad shape of the road, accidents have become a common occurrence.
Police statistics indicate that the M1 accounts for about 90 percent of road accidents in the country. From last year to June this year, about 5 700 accidents occurred in the country and killed about 1 200 people.
While the EU and RA play down the impact of the delay, some officials familiar with such projects said compensation assessment and payments could compound the delays. The EU environmental and social guidelines require that all project affected persons be compensated six months before the start of the actual work.
The guidelines demand that even those that have deliberately encroached the road reserve boundary are compensated—a development which some officials at RA question.
Said one official: “This is a bad policy. It encourages people to encroach the road fully knowing that they will be rewarded for violating the law. Our assessment shows that people continue to put up structures in this stretch to benefit from compensation.”
A 2019 Resettlement Action Plan from RA shows that there is a lot of property within the M1 road reserve which has encroached the road reserve boundary and requires compensation.
The plan estimates the cost of compensation for the stretch between Lumbadzi and Mzimba Turn-Off at about K2.2 billion. The most expensive is the 120-kilometre stretch between Lumbadzi or Kamuzu International Airport junction to Kasungu which requires about K1.5 billion in compensation largely due to encroachers.
Government is expected to do another assessment for compensation due to passage of time.
Matapa said encroachment in the road reserve area is a widespread problem which requires, among other things, awareness and a policy that makes it clear that encroachers must not be compensated but instead they should pay for such an act.
The M1 was built about 40 years ago and is an economic lifeline with high level traffic as it connects Malawi to Tanzania whose port in Dar es Salaam benefits Malawi.
The road extends to Nsanje at the southern tip of the country.