The Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) has been withholding 308 civil works contracts worth billions of kwacha. The development has turned roads into death traps, killed employment opportunities and frozen the construction industry’s economies, Nation on Sunday has established.
The Roads Authority (RA) called for bids in September last year for the projects titled ‘Road and Bridge Maintenance Programme’ (Phase II: 2020:21 financial year.
According to the tender placement, the scope of the maintenance works was “Routine term maintenance, grass cutting, grading, reshaping and pothole patching.”
However, with only two months before the current financial year ends, the contracts have not been awarded despite most roads overgrowing with bushes, some are heavily punctuated by car-damaging potholes and others almost impassable.
This paper has gathered that most of these projects are usually implemented between February and June.
In a response to a questionnaire, RA spokesperson Portia Kajanga said they finalised processing the bids last year and submitted the list of recommended contractors to “relevant government institutions”.
“The contractors compete for the works by submitting to us (Roads Authority) their bids indicating cost, methodology, experience and financial muscle on how they intend to execute the works on the projects they are bidding for.
“These bids are then evaluated by our Internal Procurement and Disposal Committee which then recommends awards to the Contractors whose bids are responsive. We have not yet awarded the contracts because our recommendations, which we submitted last year in November, are still being reviewed by relevant government institutions,” she said in a response to our questionnaire.
But Kajanga could not be drawn to disclose where the recommendations are submitted for approval; however, Nation on Sunday established that RA recommends the contracts to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) through the Ministry of Transport and Public Works.
These programmes, to be funded by the State-owned Roads Fund Administration, were already budgeted for as per the tender.
There has been public outcry over the poor roads, mostly in towns and cities, which are heavily pot-holed making driving a tough task.
Kajanga said RA has taken note of the concerns while expressing optimism that a solution will be available soon.
“We understand the concerns being raised by some members of the public on the delay in awarding of these contracts…We believe that we will soon be given the guidance and direction to award these contracts,” she said.
The Ministry of Transport and Public Works confirmed the contracts recommendations were with the OPC.
The ministry’s spokesperson Andrew Mthiko explained: “Since June 2020, it is a requirement for ministries, department and agencies to seek approval from the OPC before awarding any contracts.
“In regard to contracts for the projects in question the Ministry of Transport and Public Work, in following the required stages, submitted a request for approval to OPC and is waiting for such approval.”
In a response to a questionnaire, Mthiko claimed the projects will still be done:
“Once approved, the projects will go ahead as the projects are still relevant. You may wish to know that the kind of contracts under the subject are funded by the Roads Fund Administration through fuel levy.
“The Ministry of Transport and Public Works understands the importance of these projects since their successful implementation will contribute to its mandate of providing a safe, reliable, efficient and affordable transport system for socio-economic development of the country,” he said.
Meanwhile, a movement calling itself the Indigenous Construction Contractors Association has urged government to approve the contracts, saying withholding them has serious economic consequences.
The association’s interim chairperson Alex Chimwala, in an interview, said they are surprised that up to now the contracts have not been released.
“I joined the construction industry in 2008 and we have never experienced this. Most of these contracts are attached to the Cash for Work Programme through which we employ the poor of the poorest. For example, to cut grass 10 kilometres you need 50 people and that translates into major gains for the locals. So, it is not only the contractors that are suffering,” he said.
Chimwala, who is director of LD Building and Civil Engineering Contractors, also pointed out that the delay to award the contracts is increasing the risk of accidents as most roads are in bad state.
Of the 308 earmarked projects, 72 were expected to be implemented in the Northern Region, 102 in the Centre and 134 in the South.
OPC was not available for comment despite our efforts to solicit the same.