Forget the days when the stretch from Midima Roundabout in Limbe offered a new feel of driving into Blantyre, the country’s commercial city. Now, the stretch—which runs from the roundabout to another one at Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited offices—officially known as Churchill Road—offers the most tedious experience into the city.
Heaps of soil, diversions, noise from heavy machines and two long queues of vehicles moving at a snail’s pace along the dusty diversion defines business of the day. For Simbarashe James, a Bangwe Township resident, the dragging construction work along the stretch is a mockery to pedestrians and motorists.
“Since the construction began, there is traffic jam almost every time. Every day, I spend more than an hour in the morning and in the afternoon going to and from Limbe Market. The atmosphere is always dusty and you cannot control dust in a public transport,” laments James.
Those working in offices along the road are also enduring the heavy dust. Tisaukirenji Banda, who congregates at the Holy Innocents Anglican Church along the road, laments the situation.
This year, Roads Authority (RA) prioritised the Churchill Road among the selected city roads for upgrading using money collected from fuel levy. The authority’s spokesperson Portia Kajanga says the 650-metre long road will cost them K407 million.
The contract was awarded to Fargo Limited and the work involves widening of the section to a dual carriageway. Earlier communication about the project indicates that the construction work was expected to finish within 90 days from April 4 2016.
Seven months after the commencement of the work, the road remains closed for construction and very little progress has been made. During a visit to the site, The Nation found contract details altered. There is no timeline for the construction. Less than 10 men in work suits were working and four graders remained stationary.
Established under the Act of Parliament, National Construction Industry Council (NCIC) is mandated to promote, regulate and develop the construction industry. NCIC corporate affairs officer Lyford Gideon says his office is quick to intervene on such delays as registered on the Churchill Road, but only does so where their constituency (contractors and consultants) go against the code of ethics.
“We are very proactive in ensuring compliance to the same. However, our jurisdiction does not cover client organisation,” says Gideon.
He says they usually get complaints from clients, but so far they have not got any from RA.
“Under such circumstance, we believe the client has no problem with the contractor,” says Gideon.
The 2016 Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST) assurance report on construction projects released last week reveals that most road constructions drag due to delayed payment and non-payment to contractors and this blows the budgets.
“The money is there. Challenges being encountered on this project are to do with relocation of services by Blantyre Water Board [BWB], Malawi Telecommunications Limited [MTL] and Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi [Escom]. Also the owner of the Total Filling Station along the road does not want to relocate,” said Kajanga, while referring The Nation to Blantyre City Council (BCC) for verification.
However, the claims by RA only angered BCC chief executive officer Alfred Chanza. While ordering the deputy director of planning Matthews Mwadzangati to take us to the site and appreciate the situation, Chanza asked RA to find other excuses.
The Nation found that service providers—BWB, MTL and Escom—moved their services from the construction site almost three months ago.
“This project came without resources for compensation and we had to convince service providers to relocate using own resources and they cooperated. We demolished fences belonging to HTD and Anglican Church and we have compensation claims on our desk. RA is not telling the nation the truth,” said Mwadzangati while at the construction site.
In a follow-up interview, Kajanga admitted they have not complained to NCIC. She says it would be premature to complain about progress on the site before exhausting all provisions of the contract.
“It’s true service providers completed relocating in August, which was after the initial contract period of April 4 to July 3 2016. Due to this, RA granted the contractor an extension of time which will expire on December 1 2016,” says Kajanga.
She adds that 75 percent of the contract period has elapsed, yet the contractor has only managed to do 500m of the sub-base and 400m of the base.
“RA, therefore, feels the contractor is largely responsible for some of the delays and lack of progress on the site. It should be noted that fuel tanks at the Filling Station are yet to be removed seven months down the line,” she says
Fargo Limited could not give a comment because of contract conditions. However, an inside source says RA has not been paying them as agreed.
This week, the construction is in its eight month and there is little progress. This confirms lapses in project management as exposed in the CoST report, which shows that project management crisis in Malawi, is broader, deeper and expensively entrenched. n