The future of the railway project under the Brazilian firm, Vale Logistics Limited faces uncertainties as some Malawians in other parts of the areas where the rail line will pass have started resisting the project after observing that the company is reneging on some of its pledges including corporate social responsibilities.
The people of Neno, one of the districts the line is passing, have since vowed to disrupt the construction works if anything is done about their concerns. The villagers have since petitioned the Ministry of Transport and Public Works.
Among several other issues the residents are accusing the company of not fulfilling pledges to offer improved compensation packages, construct bridges as well as learning and health facilities.
The railway line is part of The Nacala Corridor Railway Development Project and Vale Logistics Limited is constructing it to help in the transportation of coal from Mozambique’s Moatitze to Nacara port through Malawi which is the shortest route to the sea.
Vale sub-contracted Portuguese conglomerate Mota-Engil to construct the railway line which goes through Mwanza, Neno, Balaka and Nsanje.
Things have been nasty since Friday September 12, 2014 when about 200 concerned villagers from the area of Traditional Authority Mlauli blocked the railway line which is currently under construction and the main road leading to the project.
Neno is one of the list developed district in Malawi and having the railway line passing through the district is a blessing that could at least see growth in development.
The villagers turned violent when they even refused to allow ambulances and other public service vehicles to pass through the blocked site. During the fracas the villagers turned away Catholic nuns who were driving to attend a funeral service in a near-by village, a vehicle belonging to Partners in Health, which runs one of health facilities under Clinton Hunter Foundation, and an ambulance.
An official from a company that provides security to the construction facilities, Gibraltar Security Services, was also denied access to pass through despite being in the company of a Police Mobile Service officer.
Group Village Headman Daulo, who was one of the concerned community members, said the villagers felt cheated because Vale was not fulfilling its promises.
“Vale officials have been taking us for a ride. They promised that once a public facility like a school or a clinic is pulled down to pave way for the railway line they would construct another one but they have not done so,” he said.
The chief said the company is also refusing to construct a bridge as demanded by community members at Bauleni Junction.
One of the villagers also claimed that Vale had backtracked on its earlier pledge to offer better packages as compensation.
“Like I was offered K500, 000 in compensation but they later reduced the money without any explanation. We feel that we have been taken for a ride and we will continue blocking the road and railway line. We understand construction works will end in October and we don’t want to be duped,” he said.
He said Mota-Engil uprooted fruit trees that were serving as sources of income for the villagers.
In the petition to the Ministry of Transport and Public Works the villagers say: “The diversion (at Bauleni) has affected a number of sectors, including public transport, the disabled and school-going children. We, therefore, demand that a bridge be immediately constructed at the site or, in the alternative, the site should be filled up immediately.”
The petition signed by Area Development Committee chairperson Jonas Goliati is dated September 10, 2014.
Nyasa Times investigations have revealed that some of the villagers were paid as low as K30,000 for houses which were cracked due to bomb blasts while others were paid K70,000 for collapsed houses.
One villager was paid K87,000 after stray pieces of rocks emanating from bomb blasts drilled holes through her iron sheet roof of her house and destroyed some household items including chairs and tables.
Transport and Public Works Minister Francis Kasaila faulted Vale for not consulting the community members on the decision to make diversion that has created the conflict.
“What I have been told is that community members are not happy with a diversion that has been made at a point in Bauleni Village. This is at a point where a road was already being used by people and vehicles and, because the road was already in use, Vale should have first consulted the District Commissioner, village headmen and community members before making the diversion. They did not do that,” he said.
Vale officials could not immediately comment but last week the company organized a meeting in Blantyre where it outlined what it has done as part of its corporate social responsibility.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :