The Greenbelt Authority (GBA) has cancelled a purported trip to Wuhan, China, where six of its officials and Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe were reportedly going to inspect a rice processing plant for Nthola-Illola Irrigation Project in Karonga.
GBA Chief Executive Officer Eric Chidzungu Wednesday confirmed the cancellation yesterday.
Chidzungu said after comparing various quotations and terms of travel to Wuhan which is currently a hotspot for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, they saw it fit to cancel the trip.
They have since delegated the inspection of the machine to authorities at the Malawi Embassy in China.
“The problem is that there are no direct routes to China; the country is closed due to the pandemic. So travellers have to be in groups and special flights are arranged and that makes it expensive. We are also looking at quarantine expenses. So we thought we could as well use another option,” Chidzungu said.
He added that they will be linking the team at the embassy with their contractor and an engineer through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who would lead the team to inspect the K800-million plant.
Chidzungu said the Nthola-Illola Irrigation Scheme is valued ta K15 billion and is expected to create about 14,000 jobs.
“The risk of liability still looms nonetheless, because the process is a bit slow. Otherwise we envisaged to ship the plant and have it installed by December 2022,” he said.
According to a Proforma invoice from Ethiopian Airlines, the trip was going to cost about K106 million on air tickets, out of which K23.8 million was going to be spent on Lowe’s business class ticket.
Various commentators described the purported expenditure as unnecessary for Malawi’s ailing economy.
Revelations about the trip had come a few weeks after President Lazarus Chakwera had ordered government ministries, departments and agencies to cut down on expenditure.
“Public officers, including myself, who need to travel abroad for their work out of absolute necessity, will only be allowed to take no more than three trips during the remainder of the year, unless in cases of unforeseen extreme emergency.
“The number of people in a delegation travelling abroad will be subjected to stringent restrictions,” Chakwera had said.