During the past weeks few weeks we have been interrogating the technicalities surrounding the Salima—Lilongwe water project. Off the Shelf carried the first article on the project in the February 11 2017 issue.
This was followed by Associate Professor Kenneth Wiyo’s entry (Wiyo’s 10 questions on the Salima—Lilongwe Water Project) which was serialized in two sections—in the February 18 and 25 issues. On March 5 2017, this column carried views from Imram Yassin.
In last week’s issue, we indicated that in the interest of fairness, balance and professionalism, we shall give a chance to Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) and government specifically the Department of Water Development to respond to the issues Wiyo and others have raised.
The fear is that this is a high value project costing a jaw-dropping K400 billion and that it does not have to be rushed before technical and social questions at pre-feasibility and full feasibility stages are fully addressed lest it becomes another white elephant like the Nsanje Inland Project. As Wiyo (February 18 2017 Weekend Investigates) aptly put it, the interest is that the project should not just run on political wheels but deliver results. “We rushed to build an international river port without pre-feasibility and full feasibility studies and without the agreement of a key partner, Mozambique. The cost K 8 billion. Mozambique embarrassed Malawi by detaining a trial boat on the day of the port launch and demanded a full feasibility study and a treaty to go with it. The Nsanje Inland Port has stalled as a result and its future is in doubt. Engineering projects are like a tortoise and not kalulu the hare.” Now we are talking about K400 billion—50 times more expensive than the Nsanje Inland Port project.
We sent the two institutions questions and we expected that this week we would publish their views to allay the fears Wiyo et al raise. We have not received any response yet from LWB and the Department of Water Development. But more people continue to weigh in on the issues raised so far on the proposed project. We promise to publish these views in due course in case the two institutions are still carefully dotting the ‘i’s’ and crossing the ‘t’s’ in their responses. My boss would say “in case they are trying to sit down properly to respond.” We will publish anything they say in the name of fair play as long as it adds value to the discourse. And we welcome more views on the project.
Let me now turn to the contentious issue of elections and court rulings which have become a cancer in this country. On Monday this week, the Supreme Court ordered the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to conduct a re-run of the disputed parliamentary election in Lilongwe City South East.
The background is that in May 2014, MEC declared Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Bently Namasasu winner of the polls with 10 956 votes. Suspecting foul play Malawi Congress Party (MCP) candidate Ulemeu Msungama who had 10 854 successfully challenged MEC on the results. By the way, DPP should be lucky that not many parliamentary candidates challenged the MEC results which were marred by many irregularities.
Soon after the High Court ordered a recount of the votes, whether by mere coincidence or by design, fire gutted the MEC warehouse in Lilongwe destroying the poll materials and making a recount impossible. To cut a long story short, the High Court ruled then ruled that there should be a re-run of the elections in the constituency. The Supreme Court ruling on Monday reaffirmed this ruling. This effectively means that Namasasu ceased to be an MP and the constituency does not have a parliamentary representative.
Now we hear government and MEC are in a fix because there is no precedent to the issue. What fix? There is no need for a precedence. MEC and Government’s stance on the matter is reminiscent of what happened when an MCP legislator for Mchinji North died last year necessitating a by-election. Initially, government said it had no money for the by-election which would cost around K200 million. A few weeks later, when the ruling party was ready for the polls, money was found. The rest is history.
My guess is that the DPP has developed goose flesh and sees a repeat of the Mchinji scenario especially with the economy in very bad shape. This is wrong. Government should simply comply with the court ruling and find the money in the same way it found funds for the by-election for the Mchinji North by-election. As a duty-bearer, the Executive has the responsibility of giving the people of Lilongwe City South East a parliamentary representative. Spare us this nonsense.