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Parliament summons water board officials

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Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (Pac) has summoned officials from the Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) for an inquiry into allegations of fraud in the awarding of contracts under the African Development Bank-funded Mzimba Integrated Urban Water and Sanitation Project.

Pac Chairperson Alekeni Menyani said the inquiry has been scheduled for next Wednesday morning at Parliament Building in Lilongwe.

“We were supposed to meet them yesterday [Wednesday] but we rescheduled the meeting because of the ongoing cluster meetings,” Menyani said.

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The NRWB management is accused of grossly flouting procurement procedures in the award of a $14 million contract to a facility management, civil engineering and construction company, Sawa Group.

The contract was awarded at a total bid price of $10.1 million for the upgrading and extension of Mzimba water supply system but the price was raised to $14 million after the contract had already been awarded in what the NRWB officials say was an arithmetic error.

NRWB Chief Executive Officer Titus Mtegha said his office had not yet received the invitation.

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“Actually, we are waiting for the meeting. I have been calling the chairman [Menyani] to find out when we are meeting them. We are ready to meet them,” Mtegha said in an interview on Thursday.

Pac is asking NRWB officials to bring with them terms and conditions of the loan which the board obtained for the project, the initial or blank tender document that advised bidders of contract requirements.

Others are schedules of all reference specific clauses as was disclosed to the bidders, copies of all bid documents that were received by the board and copies of rejection letters that were sent to all unsuccessful bidders.

The Wednesday inquiry follows another meeting Pac had with the NRWB which concluded that the board had a case to answer.

NRWB has since defended the disparity between the bid price and the contract price, arguing that they followed the donor guidelines and rules to the latter in the awarding of the contract.

However, sources say the prequalification process was declared null and void and that a re-evaluation of the tender was done simply to reject all other bidders, saying, in the event of all other bids being rejected and only one tender succeeding, the board should have opted for a retender.

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