By Rebecca Chimjeka
The recently launched expansion project of Kenyatta Drive to six lanes in Lilongwe has started facing hitches with some stakeholders threatening to take Roads Authority (RA) to court for flouting the law.
RA held a meeting Friday in the capital city with stakeholders that will be affected by the project.
Natural Resources Committee of Parliament Chairperson Werani Chilenga threatened to take the authority to court for embarking on the project without carrying out an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA).
Chilenga said in an interview RA has broken the law and must face the consequences.
“The committee [Natural Resources] will take the matter to court,” Chilenga said, citing Environment Management Act 2017, Section 99, as the flouted law.
The law states: “Any person who contravenes Section 31 or carries out a project that requires an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment licence without the licence or knowingly gives false information in an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report contrary to Section 32 commits an offence and, on conviction, shall be liable to a fine of ten million kwacha (K10,000,000) and to imprisonment for ten (10) years.”
Speaking during the stakeholders’ meeting, RA Chief Engineer Responsible for Major Projects Isaac Kunkeyani admitted that the Kenyatta Drive and Mzimba Street projects have started illegally.
Kunkeyani said RA was misled by the consultant who was assigned to do ESIA.
“ESIA consultant lied in the report to have done public consultations,” Kunkeyani said.
The admission comes after President Lazarus Chakwera already launched the Kenyatta Drive project on August 30 this year.
Malawi Institute of Architects representative Catherine Sani faulted RA for failure to carry out consultations.
“The road design is a threat to the environment,” Sani said.
Other participants questioned the timing of consultations when over a thousand trees are already down.
During the meeting, property owners threatened to obtain a court injunction if the authority and Lilongwe City Council (LCC) fail to explain clearly how their property will be affected.
At least 1,391 trees along Kenyatta Drive have been earmarked for removal.
Among them are 317 famous mibawa trees worth about K2 billion.
Environment activist Matthews Malata blamed RA for launching the project without an ESIA and proper certification.
“You are flouting the law when you pledged to do things differently. All of a sudden, the whole Mepa [Malawi Environmental Protection Authority] Board is seemingly handicapped and professionally bankrupt just a few months after its inception,” Malata said.
LCC Chief Executive Officer John Chome said the city is expected to lose some trees but was quick to assure its dwellers that mibawa trees will be used to make some desks for the city’s schools.
He also said the council will plant more trees which will beautify the city again in 10 years.
“This is a difficult balancing act. We need development because it is development that will improve the quality of life of the people. At the same time, development must be sustainable. It must not degrade the environment.
“So, indeed, at the moment, there are a number of big road projects that are happening and those are going to involve the loss of some biodiversity,” Chome said.
He added: “We are going to start replanting the avenue trees which are going to be lost through the construction of these major roads.”
Chakwera, during its launch, described the project as a fulfilment of his promise to build a new Malawi through job creation, wealth creation and food security.
The project will include an interchange at the current Kamuzu Central Hospital Roundabout and the improvement of Sharrar Road to a two-lane stretch in one direction and a single lane in the other direction.