Despite promises by successive governments to deliver an all-weather Lirangwe-Zomba-Machinga Road, communities in the area will have to continue enduring challenges to access essential services such as hospitals and markets because construction of the road will not start anytime soon, Weekend Nation can reveal.
Ministry of Finance spokesperson Nations Msowoya told Weekend Nation early this month that government has so far only mobilised $10.5 million (K7.3 billion) for the road from the Kuwait Fund for International Development while the entire project is estimated to cost $50 million (K34.6 billion).
Said Msowoya: “Government is, meanwhile, talking to other Arab donors such as the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting (Opec) Fund for International development and BADEA to bridge the financing gap since government cannot raise these funds from the budget.
“I think it will take another 12 months for government to conclude negotiations and processes with donors to bridge the financing gap, but the process is underway.”
He said after that the donors need to take projects to their boards for approval and thereafter the Malawi Parliament would have to approve the loan.
The 62.3-kilometre road extends northwards, passing through Chingale and Chinseu trading centres in Zomba district and connects the Zomba-Liwonde Road at Chingale Turn-off in Machinga.
Construction of the road is expected to improve the social and economic development of communities in the three districts.
Politicians have for past three decades been promising communities in the three districts that construction of the road would start soon, but nothing tangible has happened rather than using it as a campaign tool during elections.
Chiefs and their subjects in the area feel cheated and betrayed by the many unfulfilled promises governments have been making.
Former president Joyce Banda laid a foundation stone for the road just a few weeks before the May 2014 Tripartite Elections.
In the 2015/16 National Budget the Roads Authority included the road among five roads it has planned to work on starting from November 30 2015 last year all the way to 2018.
In March last year, Minister of Transport and Public Works Francis Kasaila told communities in the area that they would have been ululating had previous governments followed all processes required by the donor.
“We submitted our report on the procurement of a consultant to the donor in January 2015 and we are just waiting for their go-ahead to start the process of engaging the contractor,” Kasaila said and assured the people that come what may, construction of the road would start soon.
The minister said the process of identifying a contractor would be done within 90 days.
However, Roads Authority told our sister paper The Nation last April that civil works for the road would commence in July 2016 as government was still sourcing additional funds for the works.
In April last year government said it had received the nod from the donor to start construction works which stopped following alleged flouting of procurement procedures.
During an interface meeting with the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) last August, chiefs from Zomba resolved to meet President Peter Mutharika to map the way forward on the road project.
Six months after Kasaila promised that construction of the road would start in 90 days time, nothing has happened on the road.
Weekend Nation has found out that promises that construction works will start soon is mere political posturing.
Msowoya said the delay in the start of the project is purely because the government has not mobilised all the resources required to start the project. He said starting the project with $10.5 million means that the government will only build less than 15 kilometres.
One of the organizations that have been active in engaging government to expedite construction of the road is the CCJP.
Commenting on the news that the reason for the delay for construction of the road is because government has not mobilised enough resources, CCJP acting national coordinator Martin Chiphwanya decried lack of continuity of political will over development projects when a new government comes to power.
Said Chiphwanya: “Political will gets diluted once a new government is ushered in. The Joyce Banda administration had brought a contractor on site and raised hopes among the people in the three districts that construction work would commence. However, the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] administration felt certain procedures were flouted in engaging the contractor who later left.
“Irrespective of what may or may not have happened, victims in all this are ordinary Malawians who desperately want the road to be constructed,” said Chiphwanya.
He said CCJP is generally dismayed that there has been more talk, but little action on the ground.
He said CCJP would continue to stand in solidarity with the people to ensure that the road was constructed.
Said Chiphwanya: “Again, considering that this road is also in the DPP manifesto, we will continue engaging the authorities at all levels in helping to alleviate people’s suffering in the area through construction of the road.”
He also said it was evident that the delay in the construction of the road was partly due to lack of a clear national development agenda.