‘Don’t insult us’
The Lirangwe-Chingale-Machinga Road has been subject of activism for almost 20 years now, during which time it has appeared in almost all budget statements. On Thursday, Minister of Finance Sosten Gwengwe stocked up people’s anger by giving another untruth about the project
By Jarson Malowa & Deogratias Mmana:
Finance Minister Sosten Gwengwe’s announcement in Parliament on Thursday that the Lirangwe-Chingale-Machinga road project is at 53 percent progress rate does not seem to be a true reflection on the ground.
And his statement has only further annoyed communities along the road who say they have had enough of being toyed around about the project.
“The minister and the government should stop insulting us. They should not insult us this way,” Village Headman Kalaliche 2 from Traditional Authority Mulumbe told Malawi News Friday when we went on the ground to fact-check Gwengwe’s announcement.
Interestingly, this is a second year running that Gwengwe is giving this same progress rate.
When presenting the 2022-23 budget statement in February last year, this is what he said: “Lirangwe- Chingale-Machinga road progress is at 53 percent.”
On Thursday, he said exactly the same statement: “Lirangwe-Chingale- Machinga road progress is at 53 percent.”
But for the statement on Thursday, he added that the project delayed due to contract termination.
It is not clear what period Gwengwe is attaching the delay to because government terminated the contract in 2020, taking the project away from Mota Engil and eventually giving it to China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation.
On April 11, 2022, government published a notice of award of contract to the Chinese firm to upgrade 20 kilometres of the road to the tune of K7.2 billion.
We can confirm that since Mota Engil left the site, there have not been any works.
On Tuesday, two days before Gwengwe presented the budget, we visited stretches of the road. We did not find any construction going on, let alone a recent one.
We returned to the area again yesterday after Gwengwe’s declaration of 53 percent progress rate. What we found was the same road — treacherous to pass through in certain areas especially now that it is raining.
We found gullies gorging through some sections and grass growing right in the middle of some stretches.
When former president Peter Mutharika launched the project in May 2018, Mota Engil launched the works, constructing a few bridges between Lirangwe and Chipini Health Centre.
But since Mota Engil left the area, there has been no other contractor on site, communities testified.
Mota Engil did tarmack less than 5-kilometre stretch from Lirangwe trading centre along the M1 road. But the tarmack, clearly a substandard work, has been stripped off by time, use and rains.
The few bridges which Mota Engil constructed are now structures broken by flooding waters and vandalism.
Which is why communities along the road cannot understand what Gwengwe means about the progress rate.
“Where is the 53 percent that he is talking about? Why is government lying? Are they referring to this road or a different one? We have been lied to for too long on this project and it is unbelievable that this is continuing,” Kalaliche 2 said yesterday.
Francis Gondwa, chairperson of the Chingale Road Taskforce which has been leading the activism around the road, said what Gwengwe told Parliament on Thursday “was a lie”.
“There is no progress which could have exceeded even 20 percent. Now, let the minister come out clearly and be authentic,” Gondwa charged.
We sought Gwengwe’s clarification on his statement in comparison with what we have gathered on the ground.
In a WhatsApp text, Gwengwe referred us to the Ministry of Transport arguing that the ministry could explain this better.
“You and me could be seeing it with a layman’s eye,” he said.
His counterpart, Minister of Transport Jacob Hara, said he needed more time before he could comment.
Now, after almost 20 years of promises, communities are not relenting on their campaign to have the road upgraded. Chiefs have told Malawi News that they are arranging to engage President Lazarus Chakwera about the project.
TA Mulumbe said the road has been a campaign tool for four consecutive leaderships now.
“This is why we are saying let the President tell us why the project is failing. If it is money, let him indicate the country doesn’t have money. We demand his answers before the passing of this just presented 2023-24 national budget,” he said.