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Opposition fears irrigation project donor pullout

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Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and People’s Party (PP) have said the decision to move a K15 billion Shire Valley Irrigation Project from the Agriculture Ministry to the Greenbelt Authority under the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) raises corruption concerns and may result in donors pulling out of the initiative.

In the 2017/18 budget, the government has divided irrigation projects into two categories, moving large-scale projects to the Authority while leaving the ministry with small-scale projects.

In a formal response to the 2017/18 budget statement yesterday, MCP spokesperson on finance Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi queried the reasoning behind moving the project to the Authority, which does not legally exist and is under the office without any capacity to carry out irrigation projects.

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Dzonzi said MCP has no quantifiable evidence that OPC has ever completed any irrigation project in the country.

“Our fears are that all the appraisal documents already approved by the World Bank on the Shire River Valley Irrigation Project do not mention OPC but the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development. With this change, it would mean that the appraisals will have to be redone to reflect the new institutional framework. MCP believes that this will not only delay the project but World Bank will also be tempted to pull out like it has done on the Diamphwe Dam project,” Dzonzi said.

He said the project was approved under the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development as all the personnel involved in it are from the ministry and MCP knows that it is the only agency with such expertise.

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“Bearing in mind that the Greenbelt Authority does not have enough staff as there is only a director and three other officers. This is a bother to us. We know there are no irrigation engineers or crop scientists at OPC as well as at the GBA [Greenbelt Authority], so why this move? The GBA does not even exist as its bill is yet to be tabled in Parliament and to lump the Shire Valley Irrigation Project into their hands raises serious concern from MCP,” he said.

Dzonzi went on to say MCP is aware that even the Bwanje Valley State of Art Dam project has been moved from the line ministry to OPC and the party believes that soon it will be the European Union pulling out of this project.

PP spokesperson on finance Ralph Jooma also said the party doubts that the financiers will accept the move.

”What is wrong with ministry continuing to handle such an important project after demonstrating, so far, that it handled [the project] well?” Jooma queried.

Dzonzi then questioned the government’s use of inflation as a sign of Malawians being better off today than yesterday, in terms of purchasing power.

He said the consumer price index shows that Malawians are still subjected to high prices when government keeps on touting the inflation rate of 14.6 percent.

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