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K2bn Greenbelt project stalls

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Uncertainty surrounds the completion of a sugarcane irrigation scheme project in Salima following the suspension of construction works on the site due to government’s failure to pay contractors K800 million.

The amount keeps rising as updated information from the Greenbelt Initiative (GBI) secretariat reveals that the contractor has charged an interest which translates to an extra K300 million.

Ironically, the GBI vote has been one of the votes that have been used in recent years to solve some problems in the civil service.

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Malawi News understands that in 2012/13 GBI was allocated K1 billion but K200 million was used to subsidise salary increments civil servants were demanding in January 2013.

In 2013/14 the initiative was allocated K1 billion but the amount was revised down to K500 million. With just days before the end of the current Financial year, out of K2 billion that was allocated, GBI has only been funded K400 million.

In an interview on Wednesday, GBI Acting Coordinator, Henrie Njoloma, said the more they will delay to pay the contractor, the more money will be accumulated to complete the project.

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“We owe the contractor K800 million. Over and above that he has been charging interest which is about K300 million. It’s about K1.1 billion we need to pay the contractor. For the contractor to maintain his staff here, and continue working you need to continuously pay him, that’s what the contract is demanding. If we pay him K800 million today, we can actually complete this project,” Njoloma said.

He added that after paying what government owes the contractors, an estimated K500 million will be needed to finish off remaining works at the site.

Three companies, Plem Contractors, Agricane and HE Jackson are the contractors who have been working on the site.

Work started three years ago but the contractors suspended their operation last year at 85 per cent completion due to failure by government to pay them.

Currently, 250 smallholder farmers have been allocated plots on the 530-hectares-strech at a place called Chikwawa.

In an interview on Wednesday, chairman of the farmers, Yohane Msalira, did not hide the farmers’ frustrations over the delay of the sugarcane project.

“The delay is affecting us a lot. By now we could have started benefitting from sugarcane cultivation. We would like to ask government to do all it can so that the project starts. Currently, we are growing maize and soya beans. Each farmer is allocated 0.5 hectares of maize and another 0.5 hectares of soya beans legumes. But we really want the sugarcane project,” Msalira said.

A visit to the scheme revealed that the project has indeed stalled.

Deputy Chairperson of Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Joseph Chidanti-Malunga, said they were concerned with what is happening at the scheme.

“It is sad that we put up this structure but we seem not to take care of it. The amount of money being given to GBI is not enough. We will sit down with the minister responsible for the funding to be adjusted so that we can pay the contractor. We are told the current budget for the Initiative is K1.2 billion. If we take out all the money the contractor is owed, only K400 million will remain. It will, therefore, be very difficult to operationalise this project,” Chidanti-Malunga said.

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