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Unfinished projects anger communities

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CENTRE OF CONTROVERSY—The Mzuzu-Nkhata Bay Road

Rehabilitation of Mzuzu-Nkhata Bay Road was, in every sense, good news to the entire country, as it is a vital cog in the Mtwara Development Corridor which links Malawi to Mtwara Port in neighbouring Tanzania. But a year after completion of the reconstruction of the road, that happiness has, as SAMUEL KALIMIRA finds out in this Friday Shaker, paved the way for anger among some members of the community in Nkhata Bay due to the contractor’s failure to fulfil some corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects.

Maxwell Dzimbiri, a vendor at Mpamba Trading Centre in Nkhata Bay District, is languishing in poverty.

He struggles to find food, support his children and orphans under his custody so that they can go to school.

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He said life was tough because his small-scale business was struggling.

“My grocery shop was full of goods and I had many customers. But now I sell clothes on ganyu (part-time) basis. I go home with less than K10,000 a day. I use the same amount of money for buying food and it serves as start-up capital for the next day,” Dzimbiri said.

Memories are fresh of 2017 when he and 500 other vendors demolished their grocery structures on the request of the government to pave the way for the construction of a better marketplace.

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This was the beginning of his business downfall. Customers who used to come to his shop were now travelling to Mzuzu or Nkhata Bay Boma to buy goods.

His daily sales dropped from K120,000 to K10,000 a day after he, alongside other vendors, relocated to a temporary place where security was compromised and some of their goods were stolen.

“We were told to erect temporary structures here while waiting for the government to erect the market structures. Now, this place is not conducive for business. You cannot keep many goods at the store; it would be difficult to take care of them. That is why I have exhausted the capital,” Dzimbiri said.

Community members and vendors at Mpamba Trading Centre were allegedly promised a state-of-the-art market and police unit in the area, courtesy of Strabag International Construction—a German company which the government awarded the contract to construct the road courtesy of a loan from Africa Development Bank (AfDB).

Reports suggest that part of the agreement for the project was that the contractor was to improve social infrastructure, including improving the market and building the police unit.

The two development projects were to be implemented as part of the company’s corporate social responsibility, and funds worth K300 million were committed to the same, sources said.

Through Nkhata Bay District Council, Strabag reportedly briefed the vendors and community members about the projects in 2017.

Mpamba Vendors Committee Chairperson, James Matheza, said they felt cheated because, two years down the line, there is nothing on the ground.

SIMWAKA—So, the project is not possible

“Authorities from the council came with a letter signed by District Commissioner (DC) Rodney Simwaka, officially informing us about the projects. But, since 2017, nothing has happened. We followed up on the matter by meeting the DC and Ministry of Local Government Principal Secretary [Kingsley Dakamau] but he did not give us a convincing explanation on what was causing the delay in implementing the projects,” Matheza said.

Mpamba Ward Councillor, Joseph Chirwa-Thula, shared Matheza’s sentiments, saying members of the community were taken for granted on the issue of projects.

He said Mpamba deserved a police unit and that failure to implement the projects meant that security challenges would continue.

“We were happy with the two projects. The market could have helped vendors, who usually sell their merchandise along the road and put their lives at risk in terms of road and other accidents. There has been an outcry from members of the community on the police unit in recent years. However, it is sad that there is no progress on the two developments,” Chirwa- Thula said.

Nkhata Bay Police spokesperson, Kondwani James, said he heard about the police unit construction project and went on to state that the area indeed deserved such a facility.

Simwaka confirmed that Starbag pumped K300 million in the project through Roads Authority (RA).

He said the money was part-payment for road construction works and Strabag surrendered the funds to RA.

He added that his office took the matter with ministries of Local Government and Transport and Public Works through RA but later received communication from the authority that there were no funds for the two projects.

“Indeed, Mpamba Market and Police Unit projects came as corporate social responsibility [components] for Strabag and it committed funds to Roads Authority for the construction of the project.

“At the beginning, the processes were all moving well but, at the last minute, Roads Authority informed us that the money was not there. So, [implementation of] the project is not possible,” Simwaka said.

He said the project’s failure had starved the council of revenue at Mpamba for a year because vendors stopped paying market fees in protest over the unimplemented projects.

He said the council had, so far, lost K3.6 million in revenue since the boycott started.

“The development has led vendors to react badly and stop paying market fees for a year now. We were collecting over K30,000 per day and we have lost a lot of money. This has been bad for us because we depend on Mpamba, Chintheche and Nkhata Bay Boma main markets as our sources of revenue,” Simwaka said.

KAJANGA— Vendors are usually under the council

RA spokesperson Portia Kajanga Thursday admitted that the government and AfDB agreed to construct the market and upgrade the police unit to enhance trade and safety under the same contract.

“The initial plan for the road was to start the rehabilitation works from the High Court in Mzuzu up to Nkhata Bay port. However, during review sessions, [the] government agreed with the bank that [the] remaining resources from the project be used to upgrade the urban section of Mzuzu City from Katoto to the High Court. With this review and its implementation, all remaining resources were exhausted,” Kajanga said.

“Strabag International never provided money for [corporate] social responsibility activities. You may wish to note that such activities are not compulsory and do not form part of the contract.

“The mandate of the Roads Authority is to manage the country’s public road network. Vendors are usually under the council of the district where their market is. The authority is aware that the Nkhata Bay District Council already informed the local communities that the market will not be constructed under the Mzuzu–Nkhata Bay Road Project.

“The Roads Authority never issued an instruction for the relocation of vendors at Mpamba Market. Rehabilitation of the Mzuzu–Nkhata Bay Road was completed in December 2018 and there will be no further activities to be undertaken under this contract.”

A Strabag official, who refused to comment, yesterday said construction of the market and police unit were not part of the road construction project.

Nkhata Bay North West Member of Parliament, Julius Chione, said, during the recent meeting of Parliament, he queried Homeland Security and Local Government ministries on the two projects and the government insisted that it would implement them.

“The money was there and people in my constituency are supposed to be told about what exactly happened. Now they told me in Parliament that they would implement the two projects, without being told the exact time. Pressure is mounting because people demolished structures of their shops to pave the way for the projects,” Chione said.

He said he would fight until the projects were implemented.

MKANDAWIRE—This is injustice to the locals

Social commentator, Moses Mkandawire, said it was sad that people in Nkhata Bay did not have the promised projects.

“Community members at Mpamba deserve to benefit from the development projects. To make matters worse, people demolished their grocery structures to pave the way for the projects. This is injustice to the locals. The government should not create room for suspicion that there was fraud involved,” Mkandawire said.

In October 2018, members of the community, including vendors, wanted to hold demonstrations against the unfulfilled projects.

The vendors are demanding compensation for the shops which were demolished, saying they lost business opportunities.

Transport Minister Ralph Jooma Thursday said he knew that funds were allocated to the said projects but added that he needed to establish what transpired.

Ironically, Traditional Authority (T/A) Timbiri of Nkhata Bay, speaking during Martys’ Day Commemoration in March 2018, hailed Strabag for constructing the 47-kilometre road.

“We have other companies that do not complete their work because they steal money. So in the middle of the work, you find that they leave or delay the work. But Strabag is different; they really know their work,” Timbiri told the press on March 5 2018.

President Peter Mutharika inaugurated the road project in July 2018 courtesy of a K16.7 billion loan from AfDB.

The road forms part of Mtwara Corridor connecting Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia. The corridor links the countries to the Port of Mtwara in Tanzania, according to www.strabag-international.com

The company wrote on its website that the project involved “widening to a cross section of 6.7m wide carriage and 1.5m wide shoulders, 1.2km was reconstructed to dual carriageway. Reprocessing of the existing base course, stabilisation to form the subbage layer, crushed stone base and asphalt concrete surfacing,” the website reads.

However, failure to implement the CSR terms has no doubt left people of Nkhata Bay bitter.

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