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K19 billion youth centre controversy rages

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The storm is still brewing on the issue of Mzuzu Youth Centre project which, due to politics, has failed to take off for about nine years.

The latest development on the matter is that the government has moved in to stop Einstein Construction Company from commencing work despite that it bid successfully at a contract sum of K18,946,630,292.47.

But Ministry of Youth of Sports officials have said the constructor— who was awarded the contract early last year— has shown no interest in getting to work and lacks capacity.

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Ironically, a letter dated February 20 2021, which Mzuzu-based youth advocate Bright Mkandawire wrote to Youth and Sports Ministry officials, alleges that after vetting by Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets (PPDA) a “No Objection” was granted to the ministry to award the contract to Einstein Construction.

“The ministry then made a communication to the contractor in form of an offer letter for the same, where the contractor had accepted the offer for the construction of the much-awaited Mzuzu Youth Centre. As a procurement norm, after the communication from the PPDA, the ministry wrote the Government Contracting unit and Ministry of Justice to vet the draft contract documents to see if all the conditions of the contract were those that are required by the Government of Malawi.

“After the vetting of the drafts, clearance was granted by the two institutions to proceed with contract signing between the client (Ministry of Youth and Sports) and the contractor (Einstein Construction),” the letter reads.

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At least three companies— namely Plem Construction, Paramount Holdings and Einstein Construction— bid for the project.

Mkandawire says he has found suspected irregularities in the process.

“[In this case, the] procurement contract [has] not [been] prepared and signed by both parties as required by Section 49 of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public assets Act despite the bidder being given the notice of acceptance of the bid. So how can the contractor roll out the project without this?” Mkandawire queries.

But Youth and Sports Minister Ulemu Msungama rubbished the claims yesterday, saying the fact of the matter is that the constructor has, “first of all”, shown no interest in the project.

Msungama said information they have is that the constructor has about four government projects, which he is failing to complete.

“…and our project is much bigger than those, we are talking about money [amounting to] about K19 billion. We called the constructor to come and sign the project contract. He knows all these things. But the contractor was reluctant… he never showed up for the whole week,” he said.

As a way forward Msungama said they were meeting today to find a workable solution, highlighting that the project would still proceed but with a different direction.

“We are even engaging our legal team so that the processes are legally binding because even the awarding of the contract itself was dubious. But we, as a government, are proceeding with the project— with a different direction, of course— and, come next month, the project is starting,” he said.

The constructor, who is in the unlimited category— according to the National Construction Industry Council of Malawi— Kenneth Khonje, asked for more time when contacted yesterday.

“This is a process but let us talk at another time because I am at a funeral,” he said briefly.

Meanwhile, Youth and Society Executive Director Charles Kajoloweka has said the law should take its course.

He, however, said the project should take off as it was long overdue.

At least three Cabinet ministers have laid foundation stones to mark the beginning of the project, to no avail— as the project has remained a white elephant.

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