* ACB has instituted corruption investigations on the procurement process
* Public asks for speed investigation into the allegation
* Some people involved in road transportation business suspected intent to derail the rail rehabilitation
By Duncan Mlanjira
Some members of the public have expressed dismay at the decision of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), which has restrained Portuguese construction company Mota-Engil from going ahead with the contract it was awarded to design, upgrade and rehabilitate the railway section between Marka-Bangula.
The Ministry of Transport and Public Works awarded the contract to Mota-Engil from the bid that involved four other construction companies — two Chinese and one Malawian but connected with foreign firms.
Mota-Engil quoted its bid at K48 billion; China Railway at K60 billion; China Civil Engineering Construction at K79 billion; D&M Rail Construction/Mabro JV (Malawi) at K97 billion and ABD/Golden Star/Lennings JV (Malawi/South Africa) at K95 billion.
According to the notification of intention to award the contract which was flighted in the newspapers, Ministry of Transport and Public Works indicated that the reason for the rejection of two Malawian companies with connection to foreign entities was that they were “non-responsive”.
But in a statement, the ACB restricts the Ministry from allowing Mota-Engil from going ahead with the contract reference number MTPW/IPDC/DORS/01/2020-2021 following a complaint the Bureau received alleging irregularities and suspected corruption surrounding the procurement process.
The statement from ACB’s principal public relation officer, Egrita Ndala issued on Friday, says the restriction is in pursuant to powers invested in the ACB under section 23 (1) of the Corrupt Practices Act.
“Following the restriction notice, the Ministry of Transport and Public Works is therefore restricted from proceeding with award of the contract until the ACB has concluded the investigation or lifted the restriction notice,” says the statement.
But commenting on social media, the public defends the choice of Mota-Engil as capable of delivering a good job and that in normal circumstances, winning bidders are those who quote the lowest cost after an evaluation by the client if indeed such a cost can deliver a satisfactory job.
In his comment on Facebook, Ralph Chisinkha Mmeto insinuates that this might be coming as envy that Mota-Engil is always preferred to carry out major government construction projects.
He defends the Portuguese company, saying it is “far above qualifications” as evidenced by its previous construction of the railway line from Moatize in Mozambique, passing through Mwanza and Balaka all the way to Nacala.
He also gave an example of the construction of a new bridge at Shire North on the Limbe to Mchinji railway line as well as the Nkulumadzi bridge.
The Moatize-Nacala corridor was a contract Mota-Engil was awarded by Vale Logistics and the trains carry coal 24/7 in which many Malawians are employed.
Mmeto implored on the authorities to do proper investigation and not derail the creation of one million jobless citizens.
“Ignore some of the lies for the betterment of Nsanje and the whole country at large,” he said.
Enoch Piriminta agreed with Mmeto that this might just be envy and that some elements just want to delay the project then blame that the Tonse Alliance has failed.
Others asked for speedy conclusion to the investigation, with Christopher Chitukula saying Mota-Engil won people’s “hearts in terms of construction — Mota is capable of undertaking this project”.
Hope Blake gave other credible companies who people’s hearts such as Stra-Bag that rehabilitated the Nkhata Bay-Mzuzu road as well as Khato Civils, whose credibility is winning it large contracts in the southern African region.
Francis Kachere insinuated that this envy is probably coming from some influential people whose business in road transportation of goods and fuel is bound to be affected and wouldn’t want to support the railway network rehabilitation.
When President Lazarus Chakwera opened the Shire North railway bridge in July, he had said the new generation that emerged after the country gained multi-party democracy abandoned the rail altogether.
He reminded Malawians that the first commissioning of a train in Malawi was in 1908 during the Colonial days that operated between Limbe and Chiromo and after Independence, the railway network was extended from Blantyre to Salima before going all the way to Lilongwe up to Mchinji.
He had said this was done “in pursuit of the vision of Malawi’s Founding President, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda — to link Malawi to seaports in Mozambique and Tanzania, which he knew would reduce the cost of transporting goods in and out of Malawi”.
“Sadly, once that generation of visionaries left the stage, a new generation emerged that abandoned rail altogether. The dawn of our democracy saw the rise of a new generation of leaders who failed to appreciate the ingenuity and pragmatism of a robust railway system.
“When that new crop of leaders looked at the railway system Kamuzu had been developing, all they saw was system they could loot. They looted Malawi Railways Limited until it died. They looted the Railway Training Center until it died.
“As a result, we are now a country heavily dependent on more expensive modes of transporting goods into and across our country. This, in turn, has left Malawians in the unenviable position of paying three or four times more than neighboring countries for the same imported goods.
“It is estimated that about 40% of Cost-Freight and Insurance (CIF) on all imported or exported goods is transport cost. How we, as a landlocked country, have accepted this status quo for 27 years makes no sense to me.
“As I see it, no person who lends a hand to the death of rail in Malawi can claim to love this country. By contrast, every person who claims to love Malawi ought to be an advocate of the resurrection of rail in this country,” implored the President.
The Marka-Bangula stretch is government’s phased rehabilitation of the 201km Marka-Limbe railway line, which the President said is economically important for Malawi for goods and fuel importation from Beira in Mozambique, which was viable in the past.
The rehabilitation starts from the border Marka up to Bangula to Limbe and thereafter from Nkaya-Salima; Salima-Lilongwe and Lilongwe-Mchinji, which has been made possible through a concession agreement with CEAR.
The President said the railway project is national development agenda that is fully aligned with Malawi 2063 and the National Transport Master Plan.
The rehabilitation project of the Marka-Limbe railway is also under memorandum of understanding (MoU) which Malawi signed with the Government of Mozambique in Tête October last year. Mozambique is constructing its railway network between Mutarara that connects to Nsanje.
During his visit to Mozambique, it was announced that Mozambique had invested US$30 million to its public-owned ports and railway company (CFM) to carry out rehabilitation works of its rail network that connects with Malawi.
A report by Maputo daily paper, the Noticias, said then that the rehabilitation involves the Dona Ana-Vila Nova da Fronteira railroad network in the central province of Tete, which will re-establish the rail connection with Malawi.
The rail connection between the two countries was interrupted in the 1980s at the height of Mozambique’s civil war that destabilised the country.