By Deogratias Mmana:
Government has terminated a contract it entered with Mota Engil for the Portuguese firm to construct a National Military Referral Hospital under the Ministry of Defence.
The termination of the contract follows a legal opinion from the Attorney General.
In a progress report we have seen, produced by Deputy Minister of Defence Jean Sendeza dated September 15, 2021 and presented to her boss, President Lazarus Chakwera who is Minister of Defence, Sendeza announces the termination of the contract for Mota Engil, following a legal opinion from the Attorney General.
She also says the ministry is looking for another contractor, preferably from China.
Our attempts to speak to Sendeza did not yield much dividend as she neither could pick our calls nor respond to our questionnaire.
“The legal advice/opinion from the Attorney General has been implemented in full and the provisional contract with Mota Engil was terminated,” reads the report.
Sendeza adds in the report: “Currently, the process to identify a new contractor commenced and is being led by Malawi Defence Force.”
Sendeza says in the report that on a bilateral level, government through the Ministry of Finance is working with the Chinese Government to support the project.
“The technical team will also be meeting other interested partners in order to assess/determine their proposal’s suitability,” Sendeza says.
Asked to shed light on the legal opinion given to the Ministry of Defence, Attorney General Thabo Nyirenda refused to do so, citing professional grounds.
“The legal advice I provide is governed by legal professional privilege which restricts me from disclosing the advice I give to my client unless the client allows me to disclose the advice given.
“I have not yet been given the permission to disclose the advice provided,” Nyirenda said in an interview.
He added: “Accordingly, I will not be in a position to disclose the contents of the legal advice. Doing otherwise would constitute unethical conduct on my part.”
And when we asked Mota Engil to comment on the termination of the contract, the company’s spokesperson Thomas Chafunya simply said: “You may decide to speak to government, the ministry involved to be specific. The ministry should be able to tell you.”
In a report which the Ministry of Defence submitted to the Public Sector Reforms Secretariat on October 2 2020 for the 2020/21 implementation period, the establishment of the military hospital is one of the reform areas.
The others include commercialisation of Malawi Defence Force Engineers Battalion, use of MDF transport assets for non-military activities, organisational restructuring at MDF and the Ministry of Defence and commercialisation of MDF agricultural production Unit.
For the military referral hospital, the report cites finding resources or partner to construct and operate the state-of-the-art as one issue to be addressed.
The proposed outcome is a hospital that would provide modern health services to Malawians.
“The justification for undertaking the reform area [is] to help the government save foreign exchange (forex) on international medical referrals,” reads the report.
In terms of benefits, the report which was endorsed by Chakwera in his capacity as Minister of Defence and Sendeza as her deputy in that capacity, said the benefits would be that Malawi would provide modern health services to many Malawians who currently cannot afford the services being offered outside the country.
The idea of the military hospital also popped up in 2012, following the sudden death of president Bingu wa Mutharika in April that year.
Construction of a hospital at the Kamuzu Barracks was one of the recommendations by the Commission of Inquiry into circumstances of the death of Mutharika.
Among others, the Justice Elton Singini inquiry observed that referring a whole Head of State to a public hospital as had happened with Mutharika compromised a president’s security and privacy.
The Commission recommended that: “Government needs to construct or establish a presidential medical facility at the headquarters of the Malawi Defence Force in Lilongwe which is the seat of Government where the President regularly resides.”
The termination of the contract with Mota Engil comes as the firm is also facing an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
On September 3, 2021, the ACB issued a restriction notice, stopping the Ministry of Transport and Public Works from awarding a K 48 billion contract to the company for it to design, rehabilitate and upgrade the Marka-Bangula railway section.
The ACB is yet to come up with the results of the investigation.