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Broken contract keeps Blantyre water taps dry

Residents in the city of Blantyre have been denied access to reliable water supply in the past one year or so in part due to contract agreement breakdown between Blantyre Water Board (BWB) and the initial contractor.

This is according to the European Union which, alongside the European Investment Bank (EIB), is financing a water development project being implemented by the BWB and Lilongwe Water Board (LWB).

While LWB completed its works under the project on time, BWB is still grappling to complete the project, leaving many parts of the city still dry.

For two years now, many townships in Blantyre city have not had reliable water supply.

Yet it had been expected that the water situation in the city would improve by this time courtesy of the project whose works started in November 2009.

The project was supposed to be completed in November 2013.

The European Union has since said while most of the tasks under the project in Blantyre have been completed, the rehabilitation of the pumping stations at Walkers Ferry has been outstanding.

“BWB had awarded the refurbishment works contract in 2010. The contractor supplied most of the equipment but failed to start the work on site.

“The contract was broken in 2013 and a new company was contracted in view of completing the works by end of 2014,” said EU Head of Delegation in Malawi, Marchel Gerrmann.

He said refurbishing a running production plant has been a challenge.

“The scope of works had to be adapted to what was found on site when dismantling the equipment. The contract was also suspended for a few days in May this year whilst the best way forward was being clarified,” he said.

Gerrmann said the contractor has since resumed work on the site and works could be completed over the coming month.

He also disclosed that the European Union has so far disbursed the full amount of €30 million [part loan and part grant] to the two water boards.

“However, not all has yet been spent as Blantyre Water Board is paying the contractor as per his progress of the works,” he said.

Delays in projects of this nature often lead to cost escalation but BWB did not ask for additional funding, he said.

“The project was affected by shortage of funds. It is partially explainable by low engineer estimates at the time of preparing the project and by the cost escalation between the time the project was designed and the time it was implemented. The Water Board did not ask for additional funding,” he said.

On delays on donor-funded projects in general, Gerrmann said the EU Delegation is working closely with the government and other players to avoid stalling of projects.

“Those delays are often caused by bureaucratic impediments and lack of capacity. In general, we advise the government to give more weight to the implementation phase of projects and programmes to avoid delays to the extent possible,” he said.

But while residents in the city are yet to start reaping the fruits of the project, they have already started repaying the loan for the project.

The EIB loan was signed in December 2008 and had a first repayment date of May 2014. The last repayment date is November 2023, Gerrmann disclosed.

“The loan benefited from an interest subsidy, making the borrowing conditions concessional and attractive for the government,” he said.

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