It should never happen again! Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza has warned investors against excluding local expertise from multimillion dollar projects the size of the $10 million Garnet Halliday Water Plant in Karonga.
The minister talked tough on Tuesday when he visited the modern water plant which has reportedly left Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) paying a huge price after its engineers were sidelined during its designing and construction by the financiers, Paladin Africa.
The State-run water board is pushing for full ownership of the plant as it is reportedly almost impossible to import spares from numerous European and Asian countries without engaging Paladin.
But the Australian mining firm recently told The Nation it duly handed over the plant to government in 2010 when NRWB started running it.
However, the minister sided with the board when water officials complained that they were deprived of requisite skills to operate the plant to the extent of relying on Paladin experts to repair a software programme that regulates the machines.
NRWB chief executive officer Titus Mtegha said expatriates recruited by Paladin bypassed local engineers when it mattered most.
The voices against exclusion gained sway when the ministry’s director of water development, Sandram Maweru, complained that the department was equally sidestepped as Paladin seemed to have undisclosed links with Ministry of Finance.
Former minister of Agriculture Professor Peter Mwanza, who chairs the NRWB board, concurred: “They should have consulted.”
What happened may be a bygone, but it has compelled NRWB to cough up over K500 million to construct a parallel plant to bypass the Garnet Halliday which required replacement of filter membranes estimated at up to K110 million by last year.
Chiyembekeza hailed NRWB for erecting the three sand-filled pressure tanks made in India to cushion Karonga residents from a water crisis in case the Paladin affair suddenly breaks down.
The top-down approach and undertones of exclusion have blighted the water plant which was meant to be a gift to Karonga citizens who are likely to suffer effects of uranium mining at Kayelekera. n