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Blantyre Water Board, Green Belt Authority tussle over dredging machine

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A row has erupted between Blantyre Water Board (BWB) and the Green Belt Authority (GBA) over a dredging machine which the former allegedly took from the authority without following proper procedures.

While GBA claims they lent the machine to the board, though without proper documentation, following a directive from the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Development, the utility body says it was donated to them.

A 2019-2020 audit report queried the authority for failing to account for the value of the dredger at BWB and another one currently stationed at Salima Sugar Company.

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“The authority did not record in the asset register the details of two dredging vessels which are stationed at Salima Sugar Company and BWB. As a result, the audit team failed to determine their value,” reads the audit report in part.

It is on record however that the two vessels were procured through the Exim Bank of India Line of Credit by the Malawi Government for the GBA and repayment of the loan is due in less than a year.

At the current rate, each of the machines costs about K1.5 billion.

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“It becomes problematic as to how Greenbelt Authority would be required to pay for something it never used. The machine was new when it went to the water board. We are looking for a win-win solution,” said Eric Chidzungu, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for the GBA said.

He disclosed that they have since started engaging BWB on the matter to have the machine back and regularise the transaction.

He however complained that the water board did not cooperate during the initial engagement.

“We have taken steps to reclaim the dredger from BWB and the first efforts which started on February 11, 2021 ended in futility. The waterboard decided not to co-operate. Their argument is that the dredger was donated to them but they have failed to avail evidence to satisfy their position.

“Therefore, this year on May 5, 2022 we have written the board, again, to engage them in our pursuit of finding a plausible and amiable solution to this matter,” Chidzungu explained.

He added that they hope that the GBA will be compensated for the years the machine was not in their use and that BWB can have it on hire, in a win-win kind of scenario.

An informant close to the authority told us in confidence that hiring out a dredger costs about K1 million a day.

CEO for BWB Robert Hanjahanja said the dredger was given to them by the parent Ministry during a 2015 disaster crisis, which led to siltation of the board’s water intake.

“There were no terms of agreement, and there was no documentation to support the transaction other than that we were told by the ministry that we have been given a dredger… we did not hire the dredger but rather given under a ministerial directive to rectify the situation that occurred and also to avoid similar incidences in future,” Hanjahanja said.

The Minister of Agriculture at the time was Allan Chiyembekeza.

He then called on the ministries of Agriculture and Water to mediate the matter and decide the way forward, given the circumstances.

Hanjahanja however disclosed that they are still using the machine in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Ana, which caused flooding and heavy siltation at their Walkers Ferry intake pond.

But Ministry of Agriculture, through its spokesperson Gracian Lungu, did not respond to our questionnaire sent to his office on Wednesday.

Transparency and accountability analyst Willie Kambwandira has described the tug of war between the two parastatals as unfortunate, calling for investigations into the matter.

“This is a typical example of irresponsible use of government loans. Unfortunately, Malawians are expected to bear the burden of such toxic loans in the long run,” he said.

A dredger is a machine that scoops or suctions sediment from the bottom of waterways or is used to mine materials underwater.

It uses a submersible pump that sucks up debris and a tube that transports the sediment from where it rests in the water to the surface.

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