Ministry of Health (MoH) has disclosed that construction of the national cancer centre in Lilongwe will delay because government could not manage to provide additional funding after the budget bloated from $15 million to $40 million.
The changes to designs and specifications are said to be unauthorised and the Parliamentary Committee on Health has since demanded a report on the timelines for the construction which has not started 15 months after Parliament approved a loan bill from Opec Fund amounting to $13million (about K5.4 billion at the time of borrowing) .
MoH has been given a deadline of May 2 2016 to submit all the necessary documentation used to justify the decisions which have delayed the project.
The committee learnt yesterday that the designs were revised and a decision made to opt for intermediary suppliers of cancer equipment, hence the allocated amount was no longer enough.
The committee also took to task MoH officials to explain why the construction of the cancer centre has delayed and who made the decision to change the designs and specifications without the approval of Parliament.
“Who decided to change specifications of the centre from offering basic radiotherapy to something else which required the budget to increase from $15 million to $40 million?” Committee chairperson Juliana Lunguzi asked.
However, MoH officials did not own up to tinkering with the original specifications in the loan agreement which caused the committee to demand minutes of the steering committee on the project.
While apologising for the actions of the steering committee on the construction of the cancer centre, MoH Principal Secretary Macphail Magwira confirmed that a problem was detected when the lowest of three bids for the project amounted to $39 million while the highest was $41 million.
He informed the committee that the internal procurement committee (IPC) recommendation, which was subject to review by the consultant of the project, Osmond Lange, was not done because the consultant had not been paid his dues for earlier work.
An expert from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which had given the government the go-ahead, as proposed to assist the government in reviewing the project designs and specifications to cost the original $15 million as projected, Magwira told the committee.
Chairperson of the cancer project steering committee, Lovemore Nkukuma, defended the decision to change the designs, saying the project could not start small as it would be difficult to make adjustments at a later stage.
The centre was initially designed to cater for 2 000 cancer cases a year with facilities for in-service training of oncology medical staff.
In the 2015/16 National Budget for MoH, about K150 million was allocated as the government’s contribution while Opec Fund was to disburse K1.1 billion in part fulfillment of the loan agreement.
The project courted controversy after the government changed the earlier identified location of Lilongwe to Blantyre, which the opposition successfully protested and subsequently a Parliamentary Committee on Health report recommended that the project remain in Lilongwe for easier access by patients referred from the northern and southern parts of Malawi. n