Saturday, July 29, 2017

What we are ignoring on the Salima-Lilongwe water project

The tidbits of the $500 million project through which Lilongwe Water Board wants to tap water from the shrinking Lake Malawi to the capital city are seldom part of the bigger discourse of the arrangement.

What we hear from Malawi’s Parliament committees interested in the matter has vacillated between an environmental and social impact assessment not carried out and restrictive tendering processes which almost pressed the arrangement towards a desired contractor.

The price of the contract, which slightly falls short of half of Malawi’s average annual national budget has been needlessly—or heedfully—tucked away in the immense arguments on the project.

$500 million is not some amount that falls anywhere with natural ease. It’s a whooping K400 billion. Perhaps, an alternative should have been explored to ensure Lilongwe is not without water in the near future.

Lilongwe Water Board, the institution that is making sure—perhaps struggling—that I take a shower before going to work, should be the biggest culprit in the process of awarding such a contract to such an expensive bidder.

For records’ sake, when I joined the mainstream media in 2014, I was compelled to write a story that Lilongwe was sitting on a ticking time-bomb as far as water was concerned because “soon, the city would be without water if no measure was immediately undertaken”.

Experts argue that the Salima-Lilongwe water project would realistically cost not more than $100 million. So where is the $500 million coming from? Why is everyone seemingly neglecting the price? Wasn’t there an alternative—as suggested in the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act?

Malawi’s biggest tragedy is that she has government and opposition leaderships that always look to ways of gaining support for their bids for power, and sometimes do so with careless abandon. In fact, that is Africa’s biggest problem.

Why should tapping water from Salima to Lilongwe cost an amount which is more than that which would be spent on constructing a road between the same spots? In all fairness, the price needs to be assessed because there are fears it is not realistic.

General logic has eluded authorities because they have been palm-oiled. The corrupting influence of money has shut their mouths. Even those who seemed so eager to let justice flow like a river on the matter have now assumed unusual silence.

Former Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale knew what he was doing when he proposed a review of the contract. Much as he might not have seriously considered the price thing, it should be obvious that he knew it was way much on the higher side.

Perhaps, donors are indeed interfering too much in our internal affairs, but if they intimate something that practically makes sense, then, perhaps we should listen to them. The Salima—Lilongwe Water Project is one of them.

Its price tag is unrealistic, according to experts. Yet, this is something that we are not being frequently told.

The project should not cost $500—not even $400 million or $300—because it is way much on the higher side. A proper review is necessary.

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