Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe has said government might reconsider the $500 million Lake Malawi water project following the citizens concerns.
Khatho Civils—South Zambezi Joint Venture of South Africa is the company that was contracted by Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) and Malawi Government to install the water pipeline project t which entails pumping water from Lake Malawi in Salima to Lilongwe.
The company was awarded the project following a closed tender process involving over six companies and a successful business pitch at the Malawi Investment Forum (MIF).
However, critics, have cast doubts on the project implementation citing the lack of hydrographic study on the changing water levels in Lake Malawi and raised questions on power supply needed to pump the water.
Finance Minister Gondwe said the project will be reconsider restarting the process of awarding the contract .
“We may not proceed with the project because of all these [controversies] about the project, we may have to start everything all over again,” said Gondwe.
Center for Development of People, (CEDEP) has called for the cancellation of the project which is expected to pump 50 million litres of water from Lake Malawi per day to meet the city’s ever growing population.
Despite the fact that it is a requirement under the Environmental Management Act to carry out an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for a water project of this size before conducting such a project, nothing of this sort has happened, violating the Environment Management Act of Laws of Malawi.
In a statement made available to Nyasa Times, CEDEP said for a project of such magnitude to commence, there needs to be both a pre-feasibility and full feasibility study conducted as well as a comprehensive environmental and social impact assessment followed by detailed designs that are then made public.
“All this is supposed to be done by an independent contractor to avoid issues of conflict of interest. Looks like somebody has been pressurizing Water Authorities especially Lilongwe Water Board and Central Region Water Board to proceed with this using short cuts.
“How can government be doing short cuts in projects? What is the hurry? Why should government refuse professionalism? What is behind this contract? This is mediocrity of the highest order.
“Further than this, it is worrisome to note that this project seeks to tap water from Lake Malawi in Salima to Lilongwe and belongs to Lilongwe water board but has been awarded to Khato Civils Limited and yet Lilongwe Water Board does not have sufficient information of the same,” reads part of the statement signed by CEDEP Executive Director Gift Trapence.
Trapence said government should hire an independent contractor who will do a full feasibility study and an Environmental and Social impact Assessment (ESIA) before the project commences.
“All these must be published and made available to all Malawians. Malawians deserve to know better any projects undertaken for their benefit using the public resources. We also demand government to fully explain the criteria used in selecting the contractors.
“We do not want issues of national importance like this to be done in a secretive and clandestine manner. We have got the right to information as backed by the Access to information laws. Government need to learn to be open on these things and provide details of the project,” he said adding that if government decides otherwise citizens of this country have got a right to seek the interventions of the courts.
Commentators argue that while the idea of improving water supply to Lilongwe City is a noble one, and that it should be expedited, nothing should be done at the expense of making the whole country suffer.
Although managed by the Lilongwe Water Board, it has large implications for President Peter Mutharika’s government as the board would raise loan finance on the strength of a government “sovereign guarantee”.
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.
“Clearly government has upside-down priorities. We have power blackouts because Escom (the power utility) is failing to generate the required power due to low water levels. How do they think they will be able to generate the power needed to pump water from Salima on the lake to Lilongwe? Why should we be pumping water upland?
“This project is very costly and in the end the consumer will pay if the project fails,” he is quoted in the amaBhungane, a title for M&G.
Chilenga said principal secretary in the ministry of agriculture, Erica Maganga, failed to answer the committee’s questions when she appeared before the committee earlier this year.
“Maganga failed to convince us. She did not have a feasibility study or any information regarding any groundwork for the project, and yet Lilongwe Water Board has gone ahead and awarded the contract.
“We were not convinced about why this project should be carried out, bearing in mind the huge sums of money that could be wasted,” he said.
An expert Kenneth Wiyo, associate professor at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) who is also a certified registered engineer with over 22 years of experience, has also argued that crude power estimates were ranging between 68 megawatts (MW) to 128 MW in a country where Eletricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) is failing to generate 300MW putting to question on the power of energy and Escom rationale and blackouts.
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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