About K14 billion which government got from the World Bank for upgrading to bitumen standard the 60-kilometre Thabwa-Chitseko-Seveni Road widely known as East Bank Road, in Chikwawa, has gone down the drain.
According to local officials in Chikwawa, most parts of the road, including a 20-kilometre section that was already done, have been washed away resulting in mobility problems for the people.
Government, which terminated the contract in 2019 due to contractual breaches, is now on a new hunt for another K19 billion to go back and work on the same road where it already spent K14 billion, Weekend Nation can reveal.
Last month, the Roads Authority (RA), the contracting agency, issued a notice of intention to award consultancy services and works contract in which it announced receiving funding from government for the procurement of various road construction works during 2021/2022 fiscal year.
In accordance with Section 48 of Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act of 2017, RA issued the public notice of its intention to award the contract to China Geo Engineering Corporation under procurement reference number RA/DEV/CK-NE/2021-22/03.
In the notice, the authority disclosed the Chinese company would be “upgrading the first 42km of Chikwawa (Thabwa)-Chitseko-Seveni (S152 East Bank) Road to bitumen standard” at the cost of K19.4 billion.
“This notification of intention to award notifies the bidders and the general public of our decision to award the above contracts,” reads the notice dated April 8 2022.
RA spokesperson Portia Kajanga did not respond to our questionnaire on the issue, but Minister of Transport and Public Works Jacob Hara told Weekend Nation on Tuesday the issue on the project was no longer the procurement process but resources.
Hara maintained that government would not abandon the road project as President Lazarus Chakwera’s vision is to see all stalled projects completed.
In October last year, Kajanga told our sister newspaper The Nation the World Bank funding for the project had been depleted and government was sourcing other funds to put bitumen on the first 20km that had already been upgraded.
An analysis focusing on the last 12 years which involved reviewing financial and selected project reports, observations and interviews conducted Nation on Sunday conducted last week revealed government’s wastefulness of loans and grants which, as of December 2021 stood at K5.8 trillion, which is more than double the current national budget.
The East Bank road project is also one of the 12 road projects whose implementation has delayed because the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) has for months been sitting on it in the name of vetting, as confirmed by former RA chairperson Joe Ching’ani to Nation on Sunday in January this year.
In 2018, government got $53 million from the World Bank to upgrade the road from earth to bitumen. The project, which started in March 2018, was scheduled to be completed by March 2020.
The contract was awarded to China Railway Number 5 Engineering Company and at the time of termination, the company had only completed works on a 20km stretch from Thabwa to Mitondo.
Once completed, the S152 road will connect Chikwawa (from Thabwa) and Nsanje at Makhanga through the Shire River’s East Bank. The longest part of the project covers about 45km in Chikwawa with 15 km in Nsanje District.
Government terminated the project with the Chinese contractor due to contractual breaches bordering on sexual harassment, gender-based violence and occupational health and poor safety standards.
Besides rehabilitating the road, the Chinese company was also supposed to construct four bridges and drainage structures at Nkhate, Livunzu, Phala and Mitondo by March 2020.
Plem Construction and Mota-Engil were also contracted to erect two other bridges on Mapelera and Liphangwi rivers under the World Bank’s funded Malawi Flood Emergency Recovery Project.
But since then, government through RA has purportedly failed to procure a contractor to finalise the project, a development that has angered communities around the area.
“As political and traditional leaders we are under pressure from our subjects. We do not know what to explain to them after being assured countless times about the contractor coming to finalise the project,” lamented Alex Ziggy Mlonya, vice-chairperson of Chikwawa District Council.
Mlonya, who is a ward councilor for Makhuwira North Ward where the road passes, claimed since the Chinese contractor left the site in September 2019, no construction works have taken place.
“The situation has actually worsened. Most parts of the road, including the section that was already done, have been washed away. The work could not withstand the harsh weather elements we experienced early this year resulting from the tropical cyclones.
Traditional Authority (T/A) Makhuwira in whose area a greater part of the road passes concurred with Mlonya, saying people were outraged because, after harvesting, they are finding it hard to transport their farm produce with ease.
The situation has also annoyed Jimmy Pongolani, a trader at Masenjere Trading Centre, who said it was becoming “extremely costly” to travel to other markets and sell his merchandise due to the road’s bad shape.
After the Tonse Alliance government came to power, it ordered that once all contracts have gone through all the procurement processes, they should be submitted to the OPC for vetting.
Commenting on the issue, governance and accountability advocate Willy Kambwandira said the situation was “unfortunate and demonstrates sheer arrogance on the part of responsible government agencies, including the Road Authorities”.
He said: “It is clear that they do not want to be held accountable and correct the situation… Sadly, it is the beneficiaries of the road project that are suffering,” said
Kambwandira, who is executive director of Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency.
On August 10 2019, Weekend Nation broke a story of the suspension of the project (before the termination of contract) after some female workers lodged complaints to a World Bank delegation which visited the project site that some Chinese supervisors were demanding sex in exchange of favours.
The bank officials’ visit followed a rights education meeting which a local civil society organisation, Centre for Empowerment of Women and Girls, held at the contractor’s Livunzu Camp Site, where the abuse allegations first surfaced.