Despite legal bottlenecks and opposition from the donor community, the $500 million (K400 billion) Lilongwe-Salima Water project appears headed for a start as the contractor continues to deploy machinery to the site.
On Friday, the contractor, Khato Holdings Limited unveiled to the media in Lilongwe part of the multi-million machinery for construction of the pipeline further revealing that the company has to date invested $13 million on the project.
However , the development comes amid an on-going court case in which Malawi Law Society (MLS) sought for a judicial review to ensure compliance with the Environmental Management Act which makes mandatory an Environmental Impact Assessment Study (EIAs).
MLS also wants government to release all contractual documents on the project. Across boardrooms of the country’s biggest multilateral and bilateral donors also rages opposition to the project premised again on absence of the EIA and questions on the cost of the project.
But Khato Civils chief executive officer (CEO) Mongezi Mnyani told the press on Friday the arrival of the machinery signifies that the project is going ahead. Mnyani said the EIAs will be conducted concurrently with the mobilisation of resources by the company, but said the company was confident the results will be positive due to a preliminary study conducted by Lilongwe Water Board (LWB).
“As far as we know, we have a contract that has been signed with Lilongwe Water Board. That contract is legally binding to all parties. There are concerns that have been raised and those concerns are currently being addressed. We have looked at the concerns raised by the Attorney General and those matters have been addressed by Lilongwe Water Board and government.
“As I am talking to you, as of yesterday, we have finished the feasibility study. Remember, Khato Civils and South Zambezi were appointed as an EPC contractor and I think a lot of people, including the donors themselves, have been confused about this concept. It means engineering, procurement and construction and finance.
“It means we are doing everything. It means government takes the entire risk and puts it to the contractor. I think because there has never been a project implemented in Malawi through EPC, a lot people are confused. Tomorrow, personally, I will submit the feasibility study to Ministry of Finance,” said Mnyani.
He dismissed fears that the company was bent on bulldozing the country’s laws, and vowed to ensure that the company adheres to rules. Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale refused to comment on the development, particularly whether movement of the equipment was an infringement of the MLS court order, which called for the company to stop activities related to the project until a judicial review.
“I wouldn’t want to comment on this matter,” said Kaphale.
According to the contractor, two newly acquired state of the art trenchers part of the machinery which set off for Salima yesterday will be able to dug three-kilometre trenches a day reducing the implementation period of the project to six months.
The equipment has taken two months to reach the country. In an earlier ruling, Judge Redson Kapindu reserved his position on the matter pending a hearing by both sides of the issue.
Earlier on, Kaphale scoffed at the MLS’s application for leave of judicial review on the matter as ‘unnecessary’ and waste of time, saying his office had already advised the law society that the EIA will be conducted and that government had advised the contractor to halt operations pending the same.
“MLS just wants to attract attention. I already gave them advice on the matter. They are now just trying to be relevant. The contractor is not on the ground pending the issue of the EIA.
Department of Environmental Affairs already assured them the EIA will be done. It is a waste of time, actually, a criminal waste of time,” Kaphale was quoted as saying. In an official statement MLS said its legal action was prompted by “grave concern” over the implementation of the Lake Malawi LilongweSalima water project without compliance to the EIA.
“The law society maintains its position that that there can be no sustainable development without scrupulous compliance with the law,” reads part of the statement.