Rehabilitation of a 301-kilometre (km) stretch of the M1 from Lilongwe to Chiweta in Rumphi is expected to start August this year, in a phased approach covering about two and a half years.
This follows a tender notice by the Roads Authority (RA) on the commencement of the process to identify contractors who will be awarded the work in four lots.
The lots include a 102 km stretch fromKamuzu International Airport (KIA) junction to Kasungu to be constructed in 30 months; 85.5km from Kasungu to Jenda to take 18 months; 46.7km from Jenda to Mzimba to take 15 months; and 66.5km from Kacheche to Chiweta to take 24 months.
Most sections of the M1 between Lilongwe and Karonga are in dilapidated state and heavily potholed, with motorists describing them as a death trap.
In an interview yesterday, RA chief executive officer Engineer Emmanuel Matapa said it was pleasing that government has secured financing for rehabilitation of the M1, saying the road has outlived its engineering design lifespan and needs a complete overhaul.
He acknowledged that the KIA-Kasungu-Mzimba Turn-of f- Kacheche- Chiweta sections are the worst sections of the M1 as the edges were eaten and the situation worsens during the rainy season.
Said Matapa: “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 European Union is particular about that. But so far, we have made good progress.”
In 2019, Treasury and the European Union (EU) signed a 139 million euros (about K129 billion) agreement, a combination of a loan and grant for the project to be carried out by RA under the supervision of Ministry of Transport.
The EU environmental and social guidelines require that all project affected persons be compensated six months before the start of the actual work.
Mat apa s a id the rehabilitation delayed since the signing of the agreement in 2019 due to donor-laid-out guidelines, which include the need to hire foreign experts.
He said government policy entails not to compensate road reserve boundary encroachers, however, some donors of the project such as the European Investment Bank and the EU consider compensation for such people because they look at loss of livelihood in general.
Explained Matapa: “Everything is being worked out now to compensate the affected people so that the project is not derailed. Once Treasury releases funds, compensation payments through the Roads Fund Administration can be made within one month.”
A 2019 Resettlement Action Plan from RA estimates the cost of compensation for the stretch between Lumbadzi and Mzimba Turn-off at about K2.2 billion while the 120-kilometre stretch between Lumbadzi or KIA junction to Kasungu requires about K1.5 billion.
When contacted, Treasury spokesperson Williams Banda said there are no cost implications since the loan was only signed but no resources were withdrawn.
“The only cost would be the inflation factor affecting procurements,” he said.
Economist Milward Tobias, who is executive director of Centre for Research and Consultancy, said the road will benefit the economy by opening up more job opportunities.
On his part, EU programme manager for Economic Cooperation and Public Sector Odran Hayes justified the delay and recruitment of technical assistants.
He said : “ T h e 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.”
Hayes also said Covid-19 delayed some processes.
The M1 upgrade was initially expected to start in 2019 with an anticipated completion in December 2021.
The road, which extends to Nsanje at the southern tip of the country, was built about 40 years agoand is an economic lifeline as it connects Malawi to Zambia and enhances access to Dar es Salaam as part of the North-South regional transport corridor