Road infrastructure is a critical component of development. It facilitates mobility of people and easy transportation of goods from one place to another. For more than two decades government through the Roads Authority has been engaging various contractors to maintain or construct roads both in the rural and urban areas. However, the country is losing billions of kwacha through overpricing, corruption and poor quality of roads. And the gravy train!
The pricing of many of these roads is questionable. This does not suggest that contractors should charge the same price. It suggests that contractors should be fair and not rip off government. How does one justify the cost of a dual carriage being constructed by Mota-Engil at K6.6 billion (almost 7 billion) from Parliament Building roundabout to Bingu Stadium a distance of 4.2km? The distance is just too short to justify such as colossal amount. How was the amount arrived at?
We should not be hoodwinked by the term “dual carriage” because the other two lanes are already there. Compare this to other roads: the 45km Nkhata Bay –Mzuzu road being reconstructed by Strabag is only K6 billion, the Blantyre Ring road will cost K4.6 billion, but it is 185km. The Ntcheu-Tsangano-Neno road will cost K9.6 billion, a distance of about 65km. The Lirangwe-Chingale-Machinga road which is 61.2km is pegged at K5.3 billion. Lilongwe City Assembly has earmarked about K3 billion for upgrading about 10 roads to bituminous standard, meaning that each road will cost less that K1 billion and the combined distance of these roads will be more than 4.2 km.
While politics is a huge factor in awarding contracts in Malawi (i.e. connections or corruption) accessing information about the details of how the cost is arrived at is not transparent. Owing to exaggerated costs and corruption, government is losing billions of kwacha. Road Authority and councils can do Malawians a huge favour by giving work to contractors who charge reasonably for quality work rather than just accepting any bid price.
The money saved from overpricing can be channelled to other critical sectors such as health and education. It is heart breaking to learn or hear that hospitals do not have drugs or students are dropping out of university or colleges while others cannot even make it because of lack of funds. Yet government is allowing contractors to be overpricing projects.
The quality of work of many road construction companies is also very poor. It is disappointing that shoddy contractors continue to win contracts. Is the RA or councils serious about their work? Lilongwe City Assembly CEO Moza Zeleza has said they have put in quality control measures for the roads to be constructed in the city. Last time Zeleza justified the poor quality by saying the roads were built for light traffic. Whether it is light or heavy traffic, quality of work should not be compromised. The council lost money through poor workmanship because those roads will soon require serious maintenance. Roads are meant to last decades not a few months or years!
Hence, contractors who failed to deliver last time should not be given work. The same applies to civil engineers who certified shoddy roads for payment or project managers hired to oversee the projects. They do not deserve to be hired again because they are unprofessional and did not do a good job. They were complicity in defrauding government. Travel around our cities and rural areas and see how worn out newly constructed roads are.
And no one holds such inept contractors and engineers accountable. And then there are contractors who do not finish work on time or simply abandon the project. Why give them another contract when they do not have the capacity?
The construction industry needs to be revamped so that pricing is more transparent. No corruption or favouritism in the award of contracts and quality of work should be of the highest standard.