Abandoned police unit, clinic rile communities
Power in a community is the ability to affect the decision-making process and the use of resources, both public and private, within a community.
Power is simply the capacity to bring about change.
It is the energy people from traditional authorities (T/As) Kilupula and Kyungu in Karonga have that is getting things done.
The communities have taken to task the district council for allegedly paying off some contractors without completing infrastructure projects under District Development Plan funding window of 2016.
The communities said they are puzzled and frustrated to see a K17.5 million Wiliro Police Unit and a K17.1 million Mwangomba Under-five Clinic, abandoned before completion despite the contractors allegedly being paid in full.
In 2016, Karonga District Council awarded a contract to Ipyana Construction Company to construct Wiliro Police Unit while Milestone was tasked to construct Mwangomba Under-Five Clinic but the two construction companies allegedly abandoned the work soon after they pocketed their money in 2017.
The matter came to light two weeks ago during a series of monitoring and evaluation meetings for Citizen Action in Local Government Accountability project.
The council’s spokesperson Isaac Mkandawire, while admitting they paid the contractors, disputed the figures involved saying it was K13 million for Wiriro Police Unit and K8 million for Mwangomba Under- Five Clinic.
“They [contractors] were indeed fully paid less five per cent retention fees. Wiliro Police Unit contract was K14 million and less five per cent the contractor got was K13.3 million while Mwangomba Clinic contract was K8 million with the contractor being paid K7.6 million,” Mkandawire said.
He then justified that the decision to fully pay the two contractors was arrived at after noting that the projects were 80 percent done and also considering that it was at the end of the financial year; hence, they did not want to have money returned to government’s Account Number One.
“The rationale was that it was at the end of the financial year where funds could have been taken back into the government Account Number One if not used. This was the council’s decision and also considering that works were almost 80 percent done,” he said.
But Mkandawire was quick to say efforts are being done, among them engaging the National Construction Industry Council (NCIC), to have the two contractors back on site to complete the projects.
“The council has been engaging them to remobilise and complete the projects to no avail. In this regard, the council resolved to report the matter to National Construction Industry Council to which they have responded and have taken it up. We are waiting for that engagement that NCIC is doing with the contractors and we will take further actions after feedback from that process,” he said.
NCIC Chief Executive Officer Linda Phiri confirmed that Karonga DC lodged the complaint against Ipyana, Milestone and Wemnish.
Wemnish is also another contractor whose assignment in the district has also not been completed.
“The contractors have been requested to provide a response apart from Wemnish as he is not registered. Ipyana has submitted his response and has denied abandoning the works but that he only withdrew labour due to non-payment and also that the contract amount was exhausted due to variations (additional work). He gave notice of his intention to suspend works,” she said.
Phiri further said, due to some changes of personnel at the DC’s office, some of those staff are yet to be briefed on the issues.
“We are yet to provide a formal response to the DC on their complaint advising them to negotiate with the contractor on how to deal with the issues that led to his withdrawal, which sound justifiable. Milestone has not submitted his response yet,” she said.
When contacted, Blessings Mbowe of Ipyana Construction Company asked for more time to respond while Gotha Mwafulirwa of Milestones said he is not in better position to comment on the matter.
“I cannot comment on government issues. The district council should be better placed to comment because they are the owners of the project. I have no authority over it,” he said.
Efforts to get a comment from Wemnish proved futile after several attempts.
Meanwhile, a Community Action Group (Cag) from Mbande Area Development Committee in T/A Kyungu has bemoaned delays in completing the police unit project saying it is compromising security in the area.
“Lack of the police unit is exposing us to several challenges among them is that we travel 45 kilometres to Karonga Police Station, and this distance costs K4,000 to and from which is a lot of money. There are a lot of cases including gender-based violence, child abuse and theft, among others, happening around this area due to lack of security.
“Although we have community policing structures, they have limited powers to effectively and efficiently fight crime. If we can have this structure completed, it can help fight crime,” said Edward Kaponda Sichinga, a Cag member.
On the other hand, Senior Group Mwangomba of T/A Kilupula in the district said his subjects are finding it hard to access health care as they are forced to travel 25 kilometres to nearest health facility at Kaporo.
“Our hospitals are too far from where we are. Then we thought, with the coming in of this clinic, our children will be helped but unfortunately since the project started, it’s not coming to the end.
“And when you look at the structure itself, it is substandard,” Mwangomba said.
Dan Church Aid Project Officer William Kholongo has attributed the situation in Karonga to failure by the council to monitor implementation of its projects.
“There is a lot that is coming out from these projects. One it shows that the councils are not monitoring the projects despite that they do allocate administration fee to carter for monitoring of the projects. But at the same time it shows that the communities are not doing enough in terms of monitoring the projects themselves.
“My wish is district councils are supposed to share the project documents for example in terms of bills of quantities, annual investment plans because these are very key documents for the communities to be able to monitor the projects and form an informed point of view,” Kholongo said.
Meanwhile, National Governance Programmes Coordinator at Episcopal Conference of Malawi George Chiusiwa called for a speedy operationalisation of Access to Information Law in order for the community to access public information.
“It’s high time the government operationalised Access to Information Act, surely people should not have problems to access public information pertaining to how funds are being allocated, utilised in the local councils and, of course, in various local development projects,” Chiusiwa said.
A report from the Auditor General shows that Karonga District Council failed to produce project inspection reports for 2017/2018 financial year.