Civil society leaders are clashing in Malawi over the US$500 million hair raising water project awarded to Khato Civil Contractors just as its chairman Ashani Simbi Phiri has been a polarizing figure in the media.
Journalists were on Monday night surprised to see CSO leaders; Macdonald Sembereka and Rogers News, who have a reputation of criticising the government, saying the water project was ideal for Malawi and Khato Civil Contractors were the best option to undertake such a huge project.
This comes at a time when other civil society leaders are asking the government to halt the project until there is an open tender for the project and an environmental assessment is made among other things.
The other civil society groups are demanding an open process and procedure, diligence and justification of the staggering budget of US$500 million for the small and squeezed economy of Malawi.
However, Sembereka said the water project is people centred and worth pursuing.
Sembereka feels Simbi as a Malawian born billionaire should be given a chance to prove himself that he can deliver the complex project.
“He is one of us,” Sembereka said, calling for Malawians to be supportive to their kinsman.
Other activists who spoke during the press briefing said it would be gross insensitivity for Malawians to be calling for the cancellation of the contract when already had been spent.
Phiri, who is chairperson of Khato Holdings Limited, told Nyasa Times that he has already spent $56 million on the project in procuring equipment among others.
Newa, on the other hand said the project, after completion, would ensure constant supply of water for residents in the Capital City, Lilongwe.
This comes at a time when Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale has raised a red flag over the water project, insisting some agreements need to be changed.
Among others, Khato is expected to raise the US$500 million through other financing using the government as.a guarantor which is very unusual and an anomaly legally.
On the other hand, the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairperson Alekeni Menyani has said without the feasibility study and independent cost estimates, the project cannot proceed.
“As a committee of Parliament elected by the people to speak on their behalf., we cannot let this go on. We too join in to demand for transparency and accountability to protect the future of pur nation.” Menyani said.
He said both leadership of the government and opposition are compromised to speak on the matter as Khato owner has been giving them gifts in form of cars and cash.
And, Finance Minister, Goodall Gondwe, says authorities will have to find a better way of how to deal with the issue of the feasibility study but ruled out cancellation.
Gondwe, a veteran economist, backed the initial arrangement of awarding the contract.
“In some instances such things [errors] do happen,” said Gondwe, in an interview with The Daily Times.
He said government will have to do a review.
“What I mean is that we will have to deal with the question of feasibility study,” he said.
He insisted that “elsewhere such cased do happen.”
Gondwe also revealed that the Malawi government was yet to decide on which financier to fund the project, adding that there are a number investors that government will have to pick from.
And, a commentary in the same daily criticised government for always being hasty in the manner it handles its contracts.
Referring to the recent maize procurement scam from Zambia, the editorial commentary advised that government should “learn from mistakes that it makes as far as protecting and managing the public purse is concerned.”
Added the commentary: “Today, the country faces another deal, the Salima-Lilongwe Water Project, whose transactions raise more questions than answers. Ironically, Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) Chief Executive Officer, Alfonso Chikuni, claims that LWB had to forego Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) because Lilongwe faced an imminent water crisis. To date, Lilongwe is not as dry as Chikuni wanted us to believe.”
According to the paper, it is so blood curdling that the DPP insists that such suspicious transactions are not peculiar to Malawi and that the project will be reviewed along the way.
Once the Salima-Lilongwe water pipeline project is completed, it is expected that 50 million litres will be supplied per day in Lilongwe which suffer chronic water shortages.
Lilongwe Water Board, owners of the project, say after completion of the project, 25000 houses would be connected to water and the shortages of water that hits the capital city would drastically be reduced.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :