Central Materials Laboratory gets government funding boost

Engineer Kamndaya inspecting the falling weight deflectometer, which has emerged as a crucial tool in assessing the structural integrity and performance of road pavements during construction and maintenance phases

* Indicates the importance of CML in supporting the development of public infrastructure

* Government’s emphasis on quality and sustainable public infrastructure aligns with CML’s mandate

By Denis Mzembe

In recognition of the pivotal role that the Central Materials Laboratory (CML) plays in the construction industry in Malawi, Government recently allocated financial resources to the Ministry of Transport & Public Works for the purpose of improving the operations of the laboratory.


In an interview, CML’s chief materials engineer, Precious Kamndaya said “this good development indicates the recognition of the importance of CML in supporting the development of public infrastructure”.

“This financial support is a positive step toward enhancing the capacity of CML. The government’s emphasis on quality and sustainable public infrastructure aligns with the mandate of CML.

“This alignment can be considered a success as it underscores the relevance and importance of CML in the broader national development agenda.”

Advocacy for increased funding should be a priority to address the financial constraints faced by CML and adequate funding is essential for acquiring new equipment, refurbishing premises, and supporting ongoing operations.

“The urgent need for refurbishing premises and upgrading equipment will be prioritized in 2024,” says Eng. Kamndaya. “This will enhance the laboratory’s capabilities and ensure it meets or exceeds ISO 17025:2017 standards.

“Implementing an aggressive recruitment and training regime for technical staff is essential to address the high vacancy rate and enhance the overall capacity and competency of the CML team.

“Collaborating with relevant stakeholders, including the government, industry, and international partners, can contribute to overcoming funding and resource challenges. Building strong partnerships will support the sustainable development of CML.”

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CML has over the years faced colossal challenges in delivering its services with lack of funding impacting the laboratory’s ability to perform its functions effectively.

And Eng. Kamndaya says the state of the premises, due to a lack of funds for basic repairs, is a critical challenge: “The urgent need for refurbishment suggests that the physical infrastructure of CML is hindering its operations.

“Funding problems have also led to obsolete and deteriorating testing equipment. This poses a challenge in maintaining the necessary technological standards for construction materials testing, impacting the laboratory’s overall effectiveness.

“Despite having experienced technical staff, the high vacancy rate has also hindered service delivery. This challenge emphasizes the need for recruitment and training to ensure a fully staffed and competent team,” says Eng. Kamndaya.

CML recently initiated the development of a database in Excel to accommodate requests related to the identification of construction materials sites, particularly gravel sites.

And according to the chief materials engineer, this database aims to streamline the process of identifying suitable sites for construction materials, providing a structured and organized approach to managing this critical information.

“CML has initiated the creation of a database focusing on bearing capacity distribution across Malawi’s regions,” he says. “This database, aims to provide comprehensive information on the bearing capacity of different regions, considering regional variations and unique structural characteristics. It reflects a commitment to precision in foundation design parameters.

“CML recognizes the need for an acceptable level of quality control measures and plans to achieve ISO 17025:2017 accreditation or operate in accordance with these standards. Pursuing accreditation demonstrates CML’s commitment to maintaining high standards in materials testing during project implementation, enhancing credibility and reliability.”

CML has initiated processes to recruit a consultant for a comprehensive assessment to identify gaps and immediate needs. This step demonstrates a commitment to addressing challenges and improving the efficiency of CML operations.

According to Eng. Kamndaya, the consultant will play a crucial role in developing a strategic plan for CML based on the assessment, focusing on upgrading and modernizing facilities in Lilongwe and satellite laboratories in Blantyre and Mzuzu.

The successful implementation of the recommendations from the comprehensive assessment will be crucial in addressing the identified gaps and needs. This process should be closely supervised by the consultant to ensure effective outcomes.

The growth of CMLs clientele has been impeded by certain operational challenges including obsolete equipment and a high rate of vacancies have impacted service delivery, despite having a skilled technical staff.


Nevertheless, Eng. Kamndaya says the CML maintains its existing clients and recognizing the necessity for unbiased laboratory services in Malawi, CML plays a vital role in fulfilling this need.

Its functions, including acting as an auditing and standards body for commercial laboratories, periodic equipment calibration, management of on-site facilities for national projects, and serving as a construction materials data repository.

The CML also provides specialist or research testing that may not be economically feasible for private industry, addressing demands such as triaxial, consolidation, and deflection testing with low private sector interest.

“Resolving challenges like obsolete equipment and high vacancy rates is crucial for clientele growth and sustaining the CML’s effectiveness in providing essential laboratory services for the country,” Kamndaya says.

The emergence of commercial or private laboratories has also influenced the overall client base and in considering the establishment of new commercial materials laboratories in Malawi, while recognizing potential benefits, such as increased testing capacity and specialization, it is imperative to address concerns like maintaining quality control, and the crucial role played by the CML over commercial labs.

“From my perspective, the Central Materials Laboratory should undoubtedly maintain its prominent position,” says Kamndaya. “CML’s historical significance in Malawi is underscored, notably before the restructuring of the Ministry of Transport & Public Works and the creation of the National Roads Authority (NRA).

“During that era, the CML played a pivotal role in pavement evaluation studies, soil and borrow pit surveys, road design assistance, and ensuring constructed roads adhered to designated standards.”

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The remarkable longevity of roads built in the 1970s and 1980s beyond their designed life, is a testament to the expertise and commitment of CML. Moreover, CML is uniquely positioned to serve as the nation’s standard-bearer for commercial laboratories.

CML not only provides auditing and standards for these laboratories but also ensures their adherence to the country’s standards in the construction industry.

Additionally, CML conducts periodic checking and calibration of testing equipment for commercial and site laboratories. This crucial function, according to Eng. Kamndaya, addresses concerns about maintaining quality control and consistency in testing procedures across the industry.

He says the quality services provided by CML significantly influence the overall quality of road infrastructure in Malawi. This influence extends to the durability and performance of the roads, making CML indispensable in maintaining national standards and ensuring the longevity of critical infrastructure.

“In conclusion, the establishment of new commercial laboratories should be approached cautiously, considering the potential duplication of efforts and the paramount importance of maintaining quality control.

“The unique role of the Central Materials Laboratory as an auditor and standards body, along with its historical expertise, underscores the need for CML to remain a cornerstone in the materials testing landscape,” emphasises the chief materials engineer.