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White elephants draining billions of kwacha

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Yohane Symon & Samuel Kalimira

BILLIONS of kwacha are being lost through a myriad of abandoned projects, white elephants and misused infrastructure across the country, The Sunday Times has established.

The structures range from agriculture schemes, water projects as well as markets.

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Spot checks and fact finding by The Sunday Times revealed that In Mangochi the Nkopola Irrigation Scheme is draining millions of dollars and 16 years after it was launched it remains a pipedream trapped inside abandoned worn-out metal pipes.

In Karonga, the Karonga Water Supply Project which Paladin Africa, operators of Kayelekera Uranium Mine, initiated at a cost of $12 million as part of corporate social responsibility is currently dormant.

In the Southern Region modern markets such as Mbulumbuzi, 3 Miles in Zomba, Bvumbwe, Ndirande are not being used or are partly used making them cases of costly white elephants.

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About the Nkopola Irrigation Scheme, after Bakili Muluzi’s-led governments, both the late Bingu Wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda’s administrations continued allocating huge sums of money to the project despite showing no tangible progress.

Most technocrats in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water development have played hide and seek to explain how the previous funds were used.

The project was first launched in 2001 and it was to be completed by 2005. But since then, there have been a lot of excuses about how the project has been failing, from blaming the communities, to blaming Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi for failing to supply power. Surprisingly money continues to be spent on the project.

Currently the government has again borrowed $10 million from the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa to finance the two irrigation schemes of Nkopola in Mangochi and Lweya in Nkhata-bay.

However the Projects’ Manager Anderson Mbozi could not reveal how much is allocated to Nkopola Scheme “for fear of jeopardising tendering process which he said is at an advanced stage.” However there are indications that a big chunk of this amount will be spent at Nkopola because Lweya already started operating unlike Nkopola where there is nothing to show on the ground.

In an interview Mbozi explained that the Nkopola scheme project was initially divided into two phases, first was to develop 800 hectares of land and the second phase was also to develop another 800 hectares of land.

About $10million is reported to have been spent for the first phase although there is nothing to show for it. This means that the money which government had been allocating for the first 800 hectares for the first phase was wasted on something which the Ministry of Agriculture cannot show at the moment.

“This time around we have four components which will be running concurrently. These include the civil works, farmers support services and consultancy. This is so because we want the project to be completed by June 2018. We are developing all the 1600 targeted hectares for the first phase and second phase,” said Mbozi.

Currently Mbozi said the Ministry is at an advanced stage of selecting site contractors to work on the project so that works can start in time to meet the June next year deadline.

But Chairperson for Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture Joseph Chidanti Malunga expressed concern that government continues spending money on the project that is not showing progress.

He said as a committee they are yet to be briefed about the project and he hinted that his committee will raise the issues in Parliament so that relevant officials can explain how the previous funds were used.

“Maybe there is need to probe this because there is no way we should continue using tax payer’s money on things that are not working. I remember that it was in 2001 when we launched this project which was allocated about $10 million. We ought to be showing seriousness with these things as a country,” Malunga said.

In Karonga, the plant was handed over to Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) but it is not being used.

However, despite the fact that the facility is modern, NRWB prefers running its own plant which is close to the facility.

NRWB Chief Executive Officer Titus Mtegha said in an interview that the board plans to meet government to find an alternative way of using the facility.

“We cannot run the plant despite government though Paladin Africa donating it to us for water supply to Karonga residents. The spare parts for the facility are expensive. In short we rather use our plant than the donated facility because it can end up draining us a lot of resources for maintenance for its proper operations,” Mtegha said.

On a trip to Karonga where NRWB engaged members of the civil society on the board’s decision to change its billing system Mtegha told journalists that there were no enough consultation when the facility was being put up which means all the effort was in vain.

The other structure in the Northern Region is Mzuzu Flea market which was constructed by Press Trust.

The state-of-art market located behind Livingstonia Synod Headquarters cost Press Trust over K100 million but vendors are shunning it.

The vendors argue, the facility was built behind roads which many people use. They say the market has accessibility challenges to customers.

“As far as we are concerned, the market is ready for occupation. We already gave notice for them [vendors] to vacate the Matabwa Market because the facility is temporal and it is a death trap because of its proximity to the airport. When time comes, we will demolish the infrastructure,” said Karen Msiska, Mzuzu City Council Public Relations Officer.

But on the other markets in the Southern Region Ministry of Local Government spokesperson, Muhlabase Mughogho, said in an interview that allocation of land in some markets has already started.

“For example, the process of allocating space to people started at Mbulumbudzi Market as well as the market as 3 Miles in Zomba City. As for Bvumbwe Market, I cannot comment much but what I know is that people are not stopped from using the facility,” Mughogho said.

On the issue of Ndirande Market, Mughogho said the issue can best be handled by Blantyre City Council.

“Otherwise, some of the markets will be opened soon,” Mughogho said.

Additional reporting by Richard Chirombo

 

 

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