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Communities grill railway operators

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Communities along the railway line from Balaka and Machinga districts have accused Vale Logistics Limited (VLL) and Central East African Railways (Cear) of unfulfilled promises and also working in isolation.

The communities made the remarks yesterday in Liwonde during an interface with Minister of Transport and Public Works, Jappie Mhango, officials of VLL and Cear, chiefs and elected officials from Balaka and Machinga districts.

Member of Parliament of Machinga East, Esther Jolobala and Senior Chief Kawinga claimed the two companies promised to provide social services like schools and health facilities along the railway line, and also distribute food to the communities.

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“During construction works of the railway line, there was good relationship with the community. But since they started operations like transporting coal, there is no longer that relationship between these offices. Vale Logistics promised a lot of things to the communities like distribution of rice and beans, and also providing social services like boreholes, schools and health care,” Jolobala said

Kawinga agreed with Jolobala saying even the increased cases of train looting is a result of neglecting the communities in their operations.

“Even if you can ask them [railway operators] if they have brought before any chief the issues of looting, they will tell you they have not. But if they consider to work with us they should be assured of safety and security,” Kawinga said.

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The communities also complained of lack of passenger train services claiming the operators are prioritising general cargo and coal transportation.

“Since Vale started operating they have prioritised the transportation of coal than any other business like transporting passengers or other local goods. Business community is complaining because if you go to Nayuchi [Railway] Station now, you will find out that there is a lot of goods which are waiting to be transported to other destinations,” complained Jolobala.

She, however, condemned acts of looting, saying if the community has issues the best way is to engage the two companies in talks and see the way forward.

Cear Managing Director, Hendry Chimwaza, who disclosed that his company has so far lost 150,000 metric tonnes of wheat to looting, promised to follow up on the promises made.

“The communities have given us an opportunity to see the areas where we have failed. They have mentioned the issues that we promised, we are going to go back and see what we have done and what we are yet to do. What we promised ,we are going to fulfil,” Chimwaza said.

Meanwhile, Mhango has said government criminalises looting under Section 70 of the Railways Act.

“Vandalism of railway infrastructure and blocking trains have resulted into heavy equipment damages and is costing the operating companies a lot of money due to compensation and restoration. This is massive project invested in Malawi and those caught looting or vandalising will be arrested and prosecuted, even if it means arresting the whole village,” Mhango said.

Two weeks ago, six people including a 14 year-old boy were injured during train looting at Nayuchi Station where people wanted to get away with wheat.

The boy, Madalitso Sherif, believed to have been hit by stray bullets, is currently receiving treatment at Zomba Central Hospital.

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