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Blame game as Kapichira Dam rehabilitation delays

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A blame game has ensued between key players in the restoration of Kapichira Dam in Chikwawa district, especially on the December 2022 completion deadline which was communicated earlier.

It has emerged that Kapichira Hydro Electric Power station will not be able to resume electricity generation on December 22, as initially announced, even after President Lazarus Chakwera assured Malawians of this deadline.

Flash floods triggered by tropical storm Ana caused extensive damage to Kapichira dam and fuse plug, resulting in the drawing down of the reservoir and putting the most downstream plant on the Shire River cascade out of operation.

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Works started mid this year and officials gave a deadline of December for the dam to return to full operation. Now that deadline has been missed and officials are throwing the ball to each other on who is responsible for that delay.

The blame web

The Natural Resources Committee of Parliament blames Principal Secretary for Energy Alfonso Chikuni for changing design of a coffer dam that is to be constructed temporarily to resume electricity generation, while allowing for construction of an intake structure for the Shire Valley Transformation Programme (SVTP).

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The move did not impress the sponsor of the SVTP, the World Bank, who ordered the contractor to stop working for some days, according to Werani Chilenga, chairperson of the committee.

But Chikuni has denied the claim, saying the decision was made by a steering committee for the project.

He also blamed the Electricity Generation Company (Egenco) officials for going with the December 22 deadline and communicating it to Malawians without proper scrutiny of progress of the works.

December 22 deadline

During a recent visit to Kapichira dam, the Natural Resources Committee of Parliament inquired who came up with the December 22 deadline and why the works halted for some days.

“We still have questions as to why officials from the Ministry would offer instructions to deviate from the original plan without consulting the World Bank. However, the government is paying for sins of not using local resources which are available at Marep as we earlier advised,” Chilenga said.

Egenco Director of Planning and Development Labren Sondhi and spokesperson Mosses Gwaza told the committee that the date was provided by a consultant brought in by the World Bank.

“The December 22 deadline was given to us by experts and consultants from the World Bank who are working under the SVTP. Following these developments, they are yet to communicate to us when generation can commence,” Gwaza said.

Change of design

According to Chikuni, on October 19 a steering committee was established. He chaired the committee.

The committee asked the consultant, a South Korean firm, to provide a report on the preparedness of the stakeholders on the construction.

“He presented three scenarios; one where the coffer dam would be complete in January, the second in March and the last one where the works would be concluded on May 9. We asked him: With your current level of mobilisation with the contractor, when is he likely to finish the works? He responded most likely May 9.

“We also asked how many designs have been considered on this dam because a coffer dam is a temporary structure so the design was what they call CSD (Cement Soil Dam), a mix of cement and soil, a stabilised soil dam. So, on this CSD when the consultant presented the approach and the risks, he outlined a few things that were not in the control of the stakeholders. For example, he said we would be requiring 300 tonnes of cement per day.

“The consultant further said we considered another design which is the soil only. This design meant the dam would be wider because it’s only dependent on self-weight for stability.” Chikuni said.

According to him, the decision to change the design was made by the entire committee and not him alone.

SVTP coordinator Stanley Khaila corroborated Chikuni’s position that the decision was agreed upon by the entire committee.

Resumption of electricity generation

When contacted on the resumption of electricity generation, Egenco CEO William Liabunya said: “I think you can talk to SVTP on that because the engineer and the contractor are under them, so they are the ones that can give the deadline because it is only when the dam has been constructed that we can resume generation.”

But Khaila wondered why Egenco would push the responsibility to them when they are equally updated on the progress through the steering committee.

“I really don’t think it is right for Egenco to push this to anybody because there is a joint committee that is discussing these matters. When we say joint committee, it means Egenco, SVTP are working together so anybody who is a member of the joint committee should be able to answer this and I’m surprised that Egenco is suggesting that only SVTP can answer when this is supposed to be a joint a piece of work,” he said.

But Chikuni openly said the earliest possible time the coffer dam could be completed in was towards the end of May 2023.

The World Bank Group’s International Development Association (IDA) approved $44.7 million in funding to restore operation and increase resilience of the 129.6 MW Kapichira dam.

The funding, which was approved in June, is part of a $60 million emergency power restoration project to be financed by the World Bank, which also includes $15.3 million for repairs to Malawi’s transmission and distribution network.

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