Finger pointing and blame game characterised a stakeholders meeting on the Salima Lilongwe water project with parties accusing each other of lacking seriousness hence derailing its recommencement.
Tempers flew during a meeting involving the contractor Khato Civils, Lilongwe Water Board (LWB), officials from Ministries of Forestry and Natural Resources and Finance and the Parliamentary Committee of Natural resources in Lilongwe.
LWB’s Acting Chief Executive Officer Silli Mbewe, informed participants that after revising intake drawings submitted at the start of the project, a technical decision was arrived at to stick to the original designs.
Committee members were not amused with the information as they felt there was nothing new in the update from their 26th November, 2020 meeting and demanded to know if the contract is going ahead or not.
A Ministry of Finance representative Macdonald Mbewe briefed them that Natural Resources Ministry wrote them on the conclusion of a discussion of the Technical Committee and that Treasury will look at that and decide the way forward.
He indicated that after this, they will wait for a new financial proposal from where negotiations with the contractor on the financing will commence.
Among other factors, he explained that they wanted to reduce the cost of the project from K305 billion, to undertake a discussion on the types of pipes to be used and a discussion on the financial negotiations on terms of the loan repayment.
During the interface, questions were asked on the progress of the Diampwe water project and the representative of the Ministry of Finance expressed ignorance on the matter saying he was tasked with information on the Khatho Civils project only.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Natural resources Yanila Mtupanyama chipped in to remind them that the letter from Parliament indicated that the meeting will discuss the Lilongwe waterway not Diampwe project.
The members were visibly not happy with the reply and Chairperson of the Committee Werani Chilenga wondered how this could be when Diampwe is at a very advanced stage than the Salima Project.
Kamlepo Kalua accused government officials of not being truthful adding they were economical with answers
Mbewe was however quick to point out that it mandated the technical team to look at the designs and assured the Committee that government is going ahead with the plan and that it will be asking the contractor for final pricing and terms of the loan and that parliament will be informed as they engage in financial discussions.
On the project’s timeframe, he told them that it will be getting back to Khatho Civils this week but was not sure how long it will take for the project to kick-start.
Speaking virtually from South Africa, Khatho Civils stated that the issue of the intake drawings was resolved and they agreed to go back to original designs and duly reduced the project cost to US$15 million.
Its officials explained that their letter indicated there was no guarantee that they will meet the dark tile iron type of steel preferred by Malawi considering the COVID-19 situation hence recommended a supplier in Botswana and South Africa.
The Chief Executive Officer said they settled for K315 billion and are waiting for the Ministry of Finance on the same.
He expressed dissatisfaction over the project’s direction accusing LWB and Natural Resources of stifling it and technically misleading Malawi Treasury officials.
“We are willing to proceed with the projects, but can we get good leadership from Ministry of Natural Resources and Lilongwe Water Board?
“Yes we’re in business; we want to see Lilongwe having water in this regard we want to remain committed to this project. The sooner it is, the better for us,” he reiterated.
While non-committal on the timeline, he expressed the company’s willingness to see the country prospering promising to be in touch with the Ministry of Finance to see the project coming to fruition.
The Board’s Acting CEO expressed surprise with the tone from South Africa considering the good rapport existing with the construction company owned by Malawi’s business magnate Simbi Phiri.
“It’s not fair to say they are misleading the nation. It’s not a fair assessment; they have been working as a team and we don’t need such sentiments,” he lamented.
In an interview, Chilenga observed that Ministry of Natural Resources and the utility board are playing hide and seek.
Initially, the project was at over US$400 and Ministry of Finance had entered into a negotiation with Khatho to reduce the price to US$315 million using mild steel pipes.
The Chairperson wondered why the Ministry with LWB are recommending pipes which were in the original quotation but are very expensive meaning by the end of the day the contract price will go back to over US$400 million and feared Treasury might cite lack of financial muscle as an excuse.
“To us we feel that the project might not take place and all this is because the Ministry of Forestry and natural resources is interested in the Diampwe project which they have already started implementing.
“They are just failing to tell us the truth that okay we’re doing the Diampwe project, they are just doing hide and seek and the negotiations may take as long as we don’t know; which is not on for the country,” he said.
Due to scarcity of water in Lilongwe, the Committee is recommending the project as the best option as the country is failing to manage Dzalanyama forest where the Diampwe river originates considering the deforestation rate in Dzalanyama.
According to Chilenga, Diampwe seems ideal but in two three years’ time there will be no source of water hence will be forced to go back to the Salima-Lilongwe waterway which by then will be too costly.
Initiated during President Peter Mutharika’s administration, the K400 billion water venture halted due to reasons the Khato Civils boss Phiri deemed political and dragged government to court.