Unlicensed scrap metal dealers fuelling rampant vandalism of government infrastructure 

Following the arrest of a 26-year-old Nevas Chimphanje for allegedly vandalising Electricity Supply Corporation (ESCOM) overhead power transmission line in Dzalanyama Forest in Lilongwe last week worth K9.8 million, the public attributed the rampant vandalism of government infrastructure is due to unlicensed scrap metal dealers.

Soon after the incident on Friday, ESCOM management issued a statement that this is not the first time for the portion of the 11kV Bunda overhead line to be vandalized in Dzalanyama Forest, saying the first case on the same line occurred in May 2022 when the vandals stole 3.1km portion of the line worth K36 million.

Minister of Energy Ibrahim Matola inspecting the damage at Dzalanyama

The statement said: “Four people were then arrested and the case is still being heard in court. The line is yet to be energized following the vandalism of the 3.1km portion soon after being commissioned.”

The saboteur who was caught had cut down eight wooden poles, stole six spans of aluminium conductor and line accessories while some 50 metres of aluminium conductor was recovered from the scene of the incident.

Thus the public took to social media to condemn the mushrooming of scrap metal dealers as one of the reasons for the increase in vandalism of ESCOM’s  property.

Writing on Malawi Police Service Facebook page Eremia Phiri suggested that the arrested suspect should be pinned down to disclose where they sell the cables.

“It would definitely scrap metal dealers,” he said. “There has to be some means to regulate and register these scrap metal dealers because they are all over — even in residential areas.”

Al Shaun Antonio attributed the development  as due to ESCOM’s strategy which allows customers to purchase their own materials for electricity connections, saying in the past, “you would not easily find these connection wires because it was only found with ESCOM”.

“But after they allowed everyone to purchase their own materials when they need — they gave these thieves businesses. Where would they have sold the wires if it was back in the day?”

Another commentator Aubrey Kabenu agreed to this, saying once ESCOM liberalised the buying and selling of these wires which was then, done solely by them, is a contributing factor.

“We understand it was done to relieve the pressure that was there due to high demand of electricity connections but it was a great mistake,” he said.

“Now it will be tough to trace who is doing clean business of the items and perpetrators, I wish it was reversed. It is now close to five months since a similar case happened in our area and we are required to buy the wires for them to fix the problem.”

Among other comments, many of the people implored on the Malawi Police Service to plead for a stiff punishments in court to deter would-be offenders.

The vandalised line, which was constructed under the Malawi Rural Electrification Programme, is intended to supply electricity to communities inside Dzalanyama Forest.

ESCOM, while assuring the public that they will keep updating them on emerging issues surrounding the incident which is under investigation, strongly condemns this unpatriotic behaviour as it is hampering its efforts to increase the electricity access rate by reaching out to the remotest areas.

In response to the vandalism, Clever Kalua described the disgraceful act as a sign of intellectual and poverty while being incredulous that the saboteurs could carry out such a dangerous operation.

Limbani Msosa Mwale described as “retarded, debased and very regressive mindset with Marcus Tigonegone Chavura saying: “I curse the ones that did this evil. May their eyes never see light again; may they become desolate and abundoned in life; may they be frustrated and be blind in the name of the Lord. Let the wrath of God be on their head till eternity! I speak as the Prophet in the Land.”

Penyerera Mithi said: “Ohhh my goodness! What kind of idiots do we have in our society?” while Arthur Nsanjama was just in shock as the rest, saying: “A sad sight but this should be a wake-up call to ESCOM to migrate from wooden poles to concrete structures as concrete has more advantages than wood or steel.”

Last year, as the country kept experiencing power load shedding due to many factors that include loss of 130 megawatts lost at Kapichira Hydro Power Station due to Cyclone Ana, ESCOM said they were losing an average of five transformers a month which cost around K4 million to replace.

This vandalism affects ESCOM’s operations as a major setback in connecting new customers since transformers are paramount in any connection.

ESCOM keeps imploring on the public to safeguard ESCOM infrastructure because once they are tampered with, it affects the whole economy.

In December last year, Ndirande Police arrested two people after they were intercepted in possession of 300m of ESCOM power lines wires valued at K900,000, which are suspected to have been vandalized in Lirangwe.

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