Tatters of a US$40m World Bank project


Less than two years after the World Bank-financed Infrastructure Services Project (ISP) was completed, the beneficiary trading centres and people around those locations have been left with fragmented hopes of what looked like a defining programme in their lives.

In some of the centres, some of the services the US$40 million grant project was supposed to implement do not exist or the infrastructure erected is non-functional.

Malawi News can report that the project has also been badly affected because the district councils and community structures were not prepared to sustain the services after the completion of the project as there was no proper handover.


In some of the project sites, contractors delivered substandard work and they walked away with it.

Government has since admitted that, in some of the beneficiary sites, the services the project intended to deliver “are inadequate or not fully provided”.

The ISP project was meant to provide integrated infrastructure services of electricity, telecommunications, water and sanitation and roads in about 30 market centres in five economic corridors across the country.


According to the details in the project documents, the ISP was supposed to:

  • Install high and low voltage transmission lines and street lights, consumer meters and connections to public institutions in the market centres.
  • Provide subsidies for public phone installations and establish public internet service facilities in 10 of the targeted centres.
  • Establish water users associations and construct water supply schemes, and
  • Construct and rehabilitate roads in the centres.

Initially, the objective of the project was to “improve household welfare and strengthen economic growth in market centres and surrounding rural areas through the provision of core infrastructure services”.

This was later revised to “improving access to basic infrastructural services in target areas”.

But communities and authorities in the targeted centres have been half-hearted about the results of the project in their areas.

We travelled to Kambilonjo and Katsekela trading centres in the Ntcheu-Tsangano-Mwanza Corridor and to Mpyupyu, Kachulu, Jali, Mpasa, Chambe and Mulomba trading centres in the Zomba-Phalombe-Mulanje Corridor to assess the impact of the project thus far.

We can report that while some of the planned services were implemented in some of the centres, communities in other centres have not seen any of the services that were advertised on the sign posts that are still standing in their areas about the project.

At Kambilonjo Trading Centre, which is located over 20 km off Tsangano Turn Off market in Ntcheu, we found that, thanks to ISP which was implemented between 2011 and 2013, the trading centre has seen installation of electricity transmission lines by Escom.

We also found a water users’ association, a fully-fledged body functioning from a purpose-built structure courtesy of the project.

Since its formation in 2012, the association has to date connected 180 households around the trading centre.

But Charles Kasiya, chairperson of the association, admitted they are struggling to supply water efficiently, let alone connect more households and rehabilitate or expand their network.

“We collect K156,000 per month. We use that money to pay our staff, run the office, rehabilitate and expand the network. That’s too little money and we are failing to grow.

“We are even facing the risk of seeing the little gains made under the project getting wiped out because we are really struggling to sustain ourselves,” he said, adding that he felt the ISP project failed to meet its full objectives.

The money they make is so little that the association is failing to repair its only, broken-down vehicle, which the Central Region Water Board gave them under the project.

They are also unable to maintain their three 10,000-litre plastic storage tanks which were blown off their platform by a storm and are lying mangled in the association’s yard.

These developments have significantly reduced the association’s water supply capacity and limited its expansion drive.

A vendor at the market, Maziko Sewele, said:

“As for the other services advertised on the sign post, except for Escom transmission lines and the water, we do not have any public ICT centre here.

“And this is the road they are talking about,” he said, pointing at an apparently shoddily-done and now potholed, low volume sealed stretch less than a kilometre long.

“Where will this take us to? In the rainy season, we are on our own here. You have seen for yourself the terrible condition of the road connecting this trading centre to the M1 Road where we have the market for our crops. It’s impassable for the better part of the year,” he said.

At Katsekela Trading Centre, located further down the road from Kambilonjo, we found no water supply infrastructure such that people are still using unsafe sources.

Residents reported that they benefited from the installation of Escom transmission lines but the street lights worked for just one week after installation in 2012.

“It’s a mockery. It would have been better then if the street lights had not come in the first place because they gave us false hopes,” said Angella Mpando, a woman vendor at the centre.

In all the other centres we visited in Zomba, Phalombe and Mulanje, we could not trace an active water users’ association, with residents saying they were not aware of such an association.

“We have two taps around here. They were installed during Kamuzu’s time. But we have not seen any new development in terms of water and I don’t know of any water users’ association here,” said a resident at Mpyupyu Trading Centre in Zomba.

In all but one trading centre we visited, the street lights either functioned just within the week they were put up or they have never functioned at all.

At Phalombe boma, the contractors just erected the streetlight poles but not the meters such that the district council has had to apply to Escom for the installation of the meters.

And they are yet to get a response.

We also did not find any telecentre constructed in the other centres under the project except at Phalombe and Mulanje Boma.

But the telecentres there are not functioning.

Phalombe District Commissioner, Paul Kalilombe, said the operators of the facility abandoned it because of internet connectivity problems.

At Mulanje Boma, the operator abandoned it without explanation to the council and the facility is inactive.

“People used to patronise the facility but the operator just closed shop for reasons I am not aware of,” said Mulanje District Commissioner Jack Ngulube.

Asked whether they felt the project had met its objectives, the District commissioners for Mulanje, Zomba and Phalombe were non-committal.

“The major problem with that project is that there was no proper handover to the district councils.

“Some of the problems you have found could have been averted had the councils been well prepared to carry on with the services. Communities would have been briefed and be well organised to sustain the services,” Kalilombe said.

Zomba DC, Bennet Nkasala, also attributed the failure of the project in part to the fact that communities had not owned it.

But Public Relations Officer for the Department of Economic Planning and Development, Jolam Banda, said all interventions under the project were designed to be self-sustaining in the post-completion operation period.

That is, Escom was supposed to own and operate investments in electrification.

Water User Associations (WUAs) were supposed to own and operate water schemes and manage their expansion, with regional water boards providing technical support.

“We note, however, that some water boards are failing to sufficiently support WUAs in this regard. District water offices are also providing technical support to most of these WUAs,” Banda said.

The Roads Authority was supposed to take care of the constructed roads and ensure provision of regular maintenance and upgrading through roads’ allocations in the national budget.

With respect to the ICT component, he said, government is aware that rapid advancement in the sector will have quickly made some of the services provided by this component obsolete.

And while we have established that some of the telecentres are not functioning because the internet service provider is not supplying the service, Banda said “there is an assurance that internet services will be provided up to December 2015 when the agreement with the operator comes to a close.”

He also attributed the non-availability of some of the services under the project to substantial revision of the scope of the works.

As we went to press, the World Bank in Malawi had not yet responded to our questions emailed to its communications’ office three weeks ago.

But in its Implementation Completion and Results Report dated June 26, 2013, the Bank rated the project as “satisfactory because it managed to achieve its objectives despite the reduced scope and the challenges it faced.”

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