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Broken country

BEHIND THE SCENES—Old Malawi News Agency headquarters building in Blantyre

EYESORE—A toilet at Lilongwe Community
Hall

If quality of public infrastructure reflects the state of a country then Malawi is in a dilapidated condition — way decayed in some places, smelling badly in others—but with no one feeling duty-bound and having a sense of urgency to fix things

From roads, to hospitals, to agriculture offices, schools, court houses, stadiums, post offices, bus depots, community halls and labour offices, an endless list of public infrastructure in the country is lying in dilapidated or decayed state.

And a number of government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have told Malawi News that they are failing to maintain their infrastructure because they do not have money.

In a number of offices we have visited, it is not just walls and ceilings that are broken. We found officers operating from broken desks and chairs, with tattered curtains hanging down dirt-sodden windows.

The derelict state of some public infrastructure in the country, analysts say, smacks of lack of seriousness and neglect on the part of government and those entrusted with use and care of the structures in question.

In Mzuzu, staff in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) operate from an old and worn-out building, almost in inhabitable state.

The corridors, long known to be dirty and dark, have over time become dumping areas for broken chairs and tables and other nondescript waste.

“We can only do so much as a regional office,” one of the officials there, speaking on condition of anonymity said.

“Most of the resources are managed centrally, so it is hard to stretch ourselves really with the meagre resources we get,” said the contact.

At Lilongwe Veterinary offices, we saw tattered curtains hanging on windows that have not seen care for ages and staff working under broken ceiling boards which were almost falling off in some places.

One officer, who asked us to only identify him as Chawaka, told us the impact the unkempt work environment has on staff.

“It is demoralising to work in such an environment. People are barely in office, not because they are lazy but because the working environment is too dull.

“Need I say that we are losing clients. I know of people who prefer private veterinary services because they were put off by the condition of our offices,” Chawaka said.

Inaugurated around the 1960s, Lilongwe Community Centre was once buzzing with various activities for youths and community development.

From being a host of lively music gigs, sports activities and youth camps and trainings in the community ground, the facility is now in a state of disrepair.

There, we found a broken pipe with running water. The guard who said has been working at the site for over 10 years, said the water has been gushing there for over three months now, despite the issue being reported to the council authorities.

“It seems as though they do not pay water bills because if they did, they would be quick to come and fix this pipe. All the toilets here are broken,” the guard disclosed.

The Lilongwe Community Hall is in a similar state of decay. Despite turning it into a commercial entity, the Lilongwe City Council (LCC) is failing to plough the revenue it collects from the tenants back into face-lifting the facility.

Walking in the corridors, one is welcomed by a pungent smell from the blocked toilets. All about it are marks that the community hall has not seen any refurbishment for decades, as testified by some people we spoke to.

“The council does not have a vision for most of its premises. You do not generate money from an entity and then fail to invest in it. As matter of fact, we pay rent to the council to run our businesses in this place,” Clement Banda, a vendor within the premises, said.

The National Audit Office is not different. Condemned some 15 years ago, there has been little sign that officers will vacate it soon.

An assessment report from Department of Buildings in the Ministry of Transport and Public Works done 15 years ago recommended maintenance in the short term and demolishing of the structure in the long term.

The main building is riddled with cracks on the walls and floor tiles peeling off.

Falling ceilings that carry drips of rainfall from the rooftop are some of the glaring problems.

Time and again there are issues of electrical and plumbing problems, affecting staff operations, staff told us.

In Blantyre, the labour office in Limbe where hundreds of people gather every day to seek jobs is an ancient eyesore.

So is the state of what used to be Malawi News Agency regional headquarters. Located along the road that leads to Sanjika Palace, it is a weather-savaged building whose backyard is fast growing into a dump site.

In recent months, concerns have been raised about the condition of the passengers’ terminal at Chileka International Airport, with some describing it as an eyesore and embarrassment to visitors to the country.

For years, government has undertaken some maintenance works that have come to naught in terms of facelifting the infrastructure.

Spokesperson for the Airport Development Limited (ADL) Wezi Gondwe conceded the dilapidated state of the airstrip. But she said a master plan is being developed by the government in collaboration with Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica).

“The master plan will inform the way forward in terms of terminal building upgrade plans and way forward on similar developments regarding airport facilities and operations infrastructure,” Gondwe said.

For the broken infrastructure in agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Gracian Lungu said all agriculture facilities that are managed centrally are always on budget for routine maintenance and rehabilitation.

And LCC spokesperson Tamara Chafunya said unfavorable revenue patterns the council faces hinder progress.

“So many business activities that generate taxes happen in this city such that if significant portion of such was channeled to the council, many of these would be maintained,” she said.

Director of Housing in the Ministry of Lands Mixon Chiundira however challenged MDAs to prioritise maintenance of structures under their care.

“We have noted the neglect and we want to advise them to have maintenance items in their annual budgets. It doesn’t make sense for us to be building structures and they fail to sustain them,” he said.

But Boniface Chibwana of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) argued that the neglect of public infrastructure is symptomatic of a country that does not have proper plans for its assets.

Willie Kambwandira of Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (Csat) has since called upon Parliament to probe how budgetary allocations meant fo care and maintenance of public infrastructures are utilized.

“We are losing a lot in procurement. There is just a lot of corruption and conniving everywhere, the Internal Procurement Committees in most MDAs are compromised and have outlived their lifetime,” he said.

A 2018 World Bank study showed that Malawi was a weakest performer in the Sub-Saharan Africa in infrastructure development.

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