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Parliament pins down Northern Region Water Board officials

Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) officials on Wednesday sweated at Parliament to clear allegations of fraud and corruption in the awarding of a $14 million water project when they faced a parliamentary committee in a special inquiry.

The joint committee of Public Accounts and Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development summoned the NRWB officials following reports that they dubiously awarded an African Development Fund-funded Mzimba Integrated Urban Water and Sanitation Project to Sawa Group Limited.

But NRWB Chief Executive Officer Titus Mtegha and his top management team of three other officials as well as Board Chair Howard Matiya Nkhoma put up a brave fight as uncompromising Members of Parliament (MPs) such as Karonga Central MP Frank Mwenifumbo and Dowa West MP Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi asked probing questions on the matter.

The legislators took turns to question the officials’ decision to award the contract to Sawa Group Limited which had an initial bid of $10.1 million but the awarded contract rose to $14.1 million.

Mtegha explained that there was an arithmetic error which did not affect the processing of the bids, describing the mistake as normal and within the law.

However, this did not go down well with Mwenifumbo who said a 45.5 percent error should have forced the board to retender the contract.

NRWB Director of Technical Services Mwiza Mtawali assured the legislators that the bidding process was transparent because the board co-opted officials from the Ministry of Finance and the Department of Irrigation and Water Development to oversee the process.

However, Dowa East MP Richard Chimwendo Banda put it to the board that the whole process smacked of corruption, alleging Sawa Group Limited might have been given vital information which might have been withheld from other competitors for them to win the tender.

But NRWB Procurement Officer Patrick Sibale dismissed the allegation, saying all bidders were treated equally and according to the Procurement Act, adding all the competitors were given all the information they needed.

He said Sawa Group could not be disqualified after the arithmetic error because the other bidders had been disqualified during the prequalification process when they failed to detail specifications of power transmitters the project was to use.

He said since all the other five bidders failed to provide specifications and manufacturers’ authorisation for transformers, they failed to qualify and Sawa Group Limited was picked and corrections on the error were made.

Public Accounts Committee Chairperson Alekeni Menyani said the committee would meet again and write a report of the inquiry which would be submitted to Parliament.

He said the verdict on the issue would be contained in the report which would be compiled with the help of a consulting lawyer.

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