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Donors query Malawi water project

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Malawi’s development partners have talked tough on the country’s questionable procurements around large-scale purchases where rules and regulations designed to oversee such processes are either not implemented or just flouted.

The Salima-Lilongwe Water Project is one example which the donors have given whose award they believe was not transparent enough.

There have been reports of some procurement procedures flouted apparently because of the need to undertake a certain project quickly to avert “a possible crisis”.

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However, some observers argue that the “urgent need for action” is being abused by crooked public officers with the aim of abusing public resources in the process.

On the first day of the National Anti- Corruption Conference taking place in Lilongwe, European Union (EU) Ambassador to Malawi, Marchel Gerrmann, spoke on behalf of the development partners where he openly said corruption in the country is rampant and growing.

Gerrmann specifically pointed out procurements of large scare purchases of maize and the Salima-Lilongwe Water Project as examples of cases where procedures have not been adhered to.

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He said: “Over the last year, we have witnessed questionable procurements around large-scale purchases of maize and more recently, the awarding of a large contract to pump water from Salima to Lilongwe.

“What messages are being sent if a $500 million contract takes place under restricted tender within a very short timeframe and more so without feasibility studies and environmental impact assessment?” he quried.

The said project, which was awarded to a South African of Malawian origin, Simbi Phiri’s company, Khato Civils Limited, belongs to Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) and seeks to tap water from Lake Malawi in Salima to the capital city.

Different parties including the Malawi Law Society (MLS) and the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) of Parliament have faulted the arrangement where the contractor was awarded the work without a feasibility study and an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA).

Meanwhile, MLS has taken the matter to the High Court so that a judicial review can be undertaken on the same.

Gerrmann also stated that weak oversight and enforcement of laws and regulations have resulted into a culture of impunity such that people who engage in corruption feel that they will not be caught.

“Institutions that are supposed to be independent and mandated to tackle corruption are undermined by lack of resources and most importantly credible reports of interference,” he said, before calling for a significant change.

Among others, the development partners have recommended that until procurement reform has been concluded and procurement processes are water-tight, independent auditors should probe all procurements above K50 million and that these should be published online.

“[Additionally], high profile and high value corruption cases should be accelerated. Recent forensic audits have revealed the systematic plunder of public resources but most of the culprits have, so far, not been charged let alone sentenced,” Gerrmann said.

Minister of Jus t ice and Constitutional Affairs, Samuel Tembenu, admitted that corruption continues pervading Malawi.

He said several media reports and other information from different stakeholders indicate that the country must further tighten its belt if it is to win the fight against corruption.

“Everyone must take it as their responsibility to fight corruption. It is not a battle that can be won by government or the Anti-Corruption Bureau alone,” Tembenu said.

Keynote speaker, Kenyan lawyer and staunch Pan-Africanist, Patrick Lumumba, said corruption can only be fully fought if presidents are the top crusaders of the fight against the vice.

The two-day conference, which is being conducted under the theme: “Corruption in Malawi: Reality or Perception”, has drawn stakeholders from different sectors including the business and donor communities, the civil society and the academia.

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