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Government to self-fund K68 billion Nsanje railway project

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Willy Kambwandira

Capital Hill says it will utilise a local bond to bankroll the Nsanje- Marka Railway line, with the contractor set to commence works after signing the contract.

This comes against the background that government, through the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, has devised a follow-up strategy on the design, rehabilitation and upgrading of the railway line.

The move is said to be aimed at ensuring that the project meets its set dateline after it was cancelled and retendered following complaints to do with contract awarding, which were registered at the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).

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Mozambique already constructed its end of the railway line up to Marka Border while, on its part, Malawi is lagging behind to connect the two countries to Beira Port.

In response, Minister of Transport Jacob Hara said their main strategy is steady funding, which he said would help the ministry follow up on the project until completion.

Hara said since government is funding the project via local bond, they will ensure that progress is made.

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“All projects under a local bond do not have financing issues. The project should roll out any time from now because the contractor signed the contract so he should be bringing his equipment anytime soon,” he said.

China Railways 20th Bureau Group Corporation was awarded the contract at K68.2 billion.

Earlier on, some community members in Nsanje raised concerns over the contractor as they alleged that he did shoddy work in constructing the K11 billion Nsanje-Marka Road, which they claimed is substandard and has already brought misery to them.

On this, Hara said the ministry further assessed the contractor and conducted a sensitization meeting with the community members.

Governance expert Willy Kambwandira of the Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (CSAT) commended government for committing to completing the project but was quick to caution it on projects that have failed due to mismanagement of funds.

Kambwandira further wondered why the railway project was not included in this year’s budget, arguing this will raise concerns about the management of taxpayers’ money.

“Our experience has shown projects financed by locally generated resources take time to be completed, and they are prone to corruption and abuse, and most of them have been dumped.

“As such, we ask government to be transparent and come out clearly in terms of how much has been allocated to the project and where the money will come from as there is no allocation for the project in the current national budget. In the absence of this information, one can speculate that these are only gateways for siphoning public funds,” he said.

Initially, the contract was awarded to Mota-Engil but was retendered via a restricted tendering process after concerned contractors complained to the ACB that Mota-Engil, who had pegged the project at K48 billion, had hidden some items in their bid, making them the lowest bidder.

Later after investigations, ACB issued a statement in December 2021, stopping the awarding of the contract and called for new re-evaluations.

The Bureau’s investigation faulted the Evaluation Team for substantially departing from the requirements of the Bidding Document when evaluating the bids contrary to the provisions of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act and the Bidding Document for this contract.

The project is a reconstruction of a 72-kilometre railway line stretch from Marka to Bangula whose aim is to revamp the Sena line which connects Malawi to the crucial port of Beira—a move which intends to reduce the cost of trade for Malawi.

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