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Reviving strangely dead road project

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PHISO—He personally called

For 13 years and counting, community in Lirangwe in Blantyre, Chingale in Zomba and Machinga have been hanging on to forlorn hope that the Lirangwe- Chingale-Machinga road, when constructed, would ease their mobility problems.

Each passing year, however, turns that hope into an illusion.

Members of Parliament (MPs) of areas through which the road traverses are equally confused. They have lobbied the government, even at the highest level, but their efforts have been in vain.

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Recently, an interface meeting, facilitated by Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) that brought together journalists from Zomba Press Club, community members and four MPs in whose area the 62-kilometre road passes—brought this sad state of affairs to the fore.

MPs representing Blantyre North (Francis Phiso), Machinga Likwenu (Bright Msaka), Zomba Chingale (Lonny Banda) and Zomba Lisanjala (William Susuwele- Banda) were as baffled as anyone else.

Phiso and Msaka both claimed to have discussed the project’s progress with former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika.

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“After I became an MP in 2009, I discussed the matter with president Mutharika, who promised to prioritise the project. Unfortunately, he died before it started,” Phiso says.

He has not relented and has taken up the matter with subsequent presidents.

“I also approached former president Peter Mutharika on the matter. He personally called to assure me that he had secured funds for the road,” Phiso adds.

Mutharika’s loss in the court-ordered 2020 elections, however, put paid to those plans.

Msaka attributes the delays to funding challenges and the change of political leadership.

“The late Bingu secured funds from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi but he died before the project could take off. His successor, Joyce Banda, had a very short term while [Peter] started the project but lost power to President Lazarus Chakwera. We just need to wait,” Msaka says.

Similarly, Susuwele- Banda discloses that he once engaged former Minister of transport and public works Ralph Jooma on the project.

“He told me that there are two ways of funding the construction of a road. The first one is when government uses donor aid. The second one is when government uses local funds. This project would be funded by donor aid,” Susuwele-Banda says.

He adds that, after the change of power last year, he approached the late Sidik Mia, then Transport Minister, who advised him to write a letter to the ministry.

“Sadly, he died a few weeks after I wrote the letter,” Susuwele-Banda adds.

Communities in distress

Sub-Traditional Authority Nkapita raised his concerns over what his people are going through due to the delayed road project.

“People in my community fail to move their farm produce from the gardens to the markets in Lirangwe, Zomba and even Liwonde in Machinga, where they can fetch good prices. We don’t have easy access to hospitals and people die on the way to hospital,” Nkapita says.

Some women deliver on their way to the hospital, the chief says.

“Chingale area is very big. Hospitals are located far away from our communities. The roads leading to the hospitals such as Zomba Central Hospital are bumpy,” Nkapita says.

But the wait for the road is on-going.

“We don’t know why this issue has taken this long. We don’t think it’s proper to have to wait for over 13 years. But we wonder why other projects are completed in good time,” Nkapita says.

Pressure from stakeholders

CfSC is implementing a €102,000 (approximately K102 million) project in Zomba, Phalombe, Mangochi and Mzimba dubbed ‘Strengthening the Capacity of Citizens to Demand Transparency and accountability for poverty and Inequality’ funded by GIZ.

CfSC Executive Director James Ngahy says the meetings are aimed at tackling unresolved issues in communities.

“When we started the project we trained communities and journalists. We have now reached a point where we need to engage all sectors to look at projects that have stalled such as the Chingale road project,” Ngahy says.

He expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the meeting and the combination of the delegates, who included officials from the Ministry of Transport.

“I am very impressed because we have heard from members of parliament who have been doing quite a lot to make sure the project is realised,” Ngahy says.

The project has been on the run since October 2020 through to its end in March this year.

MP Banda stressed the need for an explanation from the government on the causes of the delay.

“If the construction has stopped, the government needs to tell us why this is so,” Banda said.

Banda further acknowledges the concerns communities raise on the delayed project, but shoots down suggestions that MPs construct the road.

“This is a government project. We should raise our concerns with the government, not us as members of parliament. However, let’s continue working in unity,” Banda says.

On a different note, Msaka emphasises the need for a taskforce, that would include the four MPs, to deal with the matter.

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