Donors cite Lake Malawi Water project as one example of misprocurement

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The European Union (EU) has pointed out the controversies surrounding the Salima-Lilongwe Water Project as examples of bad procurements around large-scale purchases where rules and regulations designed to oversee such processes are either not implemented or just flouted.

Some of the diginitaries at the conference

Speaking during the  National Anti Corruption Conference in Lilongwe, the  EU Ambassador Marchel Gerrmann said donors strongly believe the  Salima-Lilongwe Water Project is one example where procedures have not been adhered to.

He said: “Over the last year, we have witnessed questionable procurements around large scale purchases of maize and more recently the awarding of a large contract to pump water from Salima and Lilongwe.

“What messages are being sent if a $500 million contract takes place under restricted tender within a very short time frame and more so without feasibility studies and an environmental impact assessment?”

The chief executive of the Lilongwe Water Board, (owners of the project) Alfonso Chikuni, said  Malawian billionaire Simbi Phiri’s companies, Khato Civils and South Zambezi, were “identified” and “would carry out feasibility studies, procure and construct” in a turnkey arrangement on the Lilongwe-Salima scheme.

Different parties including the Malawi Law Society (MLS) and the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) of Parliament have faulted the arrangement where the contractor was awarded the work without a feasibility study and an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA).

The chairperson of Malawi’s parliamentary committee on natural resources and climate change, Werani Chilenga, complained that the government has not been transparent on the project.

“I cannot say I have heard or know much about it – all we know is that government will give a guarantee to Lilongwe Water Board to borrow money from overseas. As a committee, we are not happy and have many questions,” he said.

Chilenga added that the committee fears the project is not economically viable and will do more harm than good to Malawians.

Meanwhile, MLS has taken the matter to the High Court so that a judicial review can be undertaken on the same.

Major questions about the scheme were raised by one of Malawi’s foremost water experts, Kenneth Wiyo in two articles published in The Nation newspaper last month.

Wiyo, associate professor at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, also emphasised that there has been no feasibility or pre-feasibility studies, or formal assessment of the possible impact on the environment and communities whose land will be crossed by the pipeline.

Wiyo also asked:

  • Why has the low-cost approach of capturing river water before it reaches the lake, rather than being pumped uphill to Lilongwe, not been adopted?
  • The gravity method, used to feed water from Mulanje Mountain to Blantyre, would also create opportunities for hydropower generation, fish farming and tourism, Wiyo said;
  • Has any estimate been made of the power requirements of lifting water almost 2 000 feet from the lake to Lilongwe, and what will be the source of this power?
  • Wiyo said his students had estimated the required power usage at between 68 and 128MW, in a country where Escom failed to generate 300MW. He asked how the new demand would be squared with repeated blackouts and rationing across the country.
  • How much water is to be abstracted from Lake Malawi, and will it will have an impact on the outflow of the Shire River, affecting hydropower generation?
  • What is the required pipe size; how easily and quickly can the pipes be laid; and will they be locally manufactured or imported?
    What route will the pipeline take, and will it need land bridges and aqueducts to cross rivers, gullies and dambos? Will a storage dam be needed, like Mudi Dam in Blantyre?
  • Have studies been conducted on soils and geological formations to inform decisions on the pipe material use? Wiyo said he knew of a Malawian irrigation project where nearly 9km of piping had been replaced due to corrosion.
  • Will the proposed pipeline route involve land tenure, settlement removals and compensation issues, and who will be responsible for compensating affected communities? Wiyo said that in the past enraged communities had chased ministers from project sites to protect their interests.
  • Why has an environmental and social impact assessment not been conducted, given that it is required by Malawi’s Environmental Management Act? Wiyo said it would be a criminal offence not to conduct such a study and not to act on its recommendations.

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