Majestically perched on the mountain top in the hilly part of southern Malawi, Neno district is like an island cut off from the rest of the world – not by marauding crocodiles but lack of proper road infrastructure.
Ironically, although the district is a cash cow for contractors, travelling on the gully-infested roads of Neno remains bone crunching, tedious, expensive and risky to people and motor vehicles.
Emerging evidence suggests that Malawi’s road construction companies have in the past four years cashed in on Neno’s poor road conditions with hundreds of millions of Kwacha being allocated for rehabilitation and construction works amid growing stakeholder concerns over delays and continued poor state of roadsthere.
Analysis of data sourced from the Roads Authority (RA) shows that at least 15 Malawian companies were – directly or indirectly – contracted to work on Neno roads in the past 4 years, cashing in on a cumulative funding basket of about K 1.7 billion in road rehabilitation. In the same period, about K 1.7 billion was also invested in the construction of the 12 km stretch on the Mwanza Turnoff – Neno road.
Seventeen years after being elevated to a district, Neno boasts of only 12.2 km of low volume road of all three main routes namely: the 37 km Mwanza turn-off on the Blantyre – Mwanza road to Neno (Zaka – Kambalame), the 140 km Tsangano-Neno-Mwanza road and the 25 km hilly stretch from Khwinda turn-off on the Lilongwe-Blantyre M1 road to the district headquarters.
In a recent interview, RA Spokesperson Portia Kajanga has acknowledged the challenges linked to delays and poor road conditions but described them as inevitable in projects executed using locally sourced funds.
“The main Neno road projects are being implemented using local resources. As a result, we are implementing the projects in a piecemeal fashion. Every financial year, we target between 3 km and 5 km per year depending on the available resources for the Mwanza Turnoff – Neno road and about 20 km for the Tsangano – Neno road,” said Kajanga.
Road-Related Allocations for Neno
|Financial Year||Allocation Details||Contractor|
|2015/2016||K 347 million was allocated under phase 2 of the rehabilitation of selected sections of the Neno road||Mkaka Construction|
|2015/2016||K 125 million for rehabilitation and maintenance of in Chiradzulu, Mwanza, Neno, Thyolo and Nsanje||Cas Civil Engineering|
|2017/2018||K 156 million allocated to Mwanza, Neno, Chikwawa and Nsanje for emergency and urgent works||Katakwe Civil Engineering|
|2017/2018||K 75 million allocated to Mwanza and Neno for roads and bridges maintenance||DTK Civil Engineering|
|2016/2017||K 500 million for the construction of a 5 km stretch between Zaka junction and Kambalame in Neno||Mkaka Construction|
|2016/2017||K 68 million for rehabilitation works||Kelchi Construction|
|2016/2017||K 510 million for the construction of Zaka – Neno Kambalame in Neno||Kobe Construction Company|
|2016/2017||K 785 million construction of road and bridge rehabilitation||Top Range Civil Engineering|
|2017/2018||K 254 million consultancy for supervision of roads and bridges in southern region||MSCAT Consulting Engineers|
|2017/2018||K 283 million consultancy for supervision of the Ntcheu-Tsangano-Neno-Mwanza road||Henderson & Partners Consulting Engineers|
|2017/2018||K 193 million for the construction of Lisungwi Bridge in Neno||Wasi Engineering|
|2017/2018||K 156 million allocated to Mwanza, Neno, Chikwawa and Nsanje for emergency and urgent works||Katakwe Construction|
|2017/2018||K 77 million for the procurement of roads and maintenance of bridge in Mwanza and Neno||DTK Civil Engineering|
|2017/2018||K 84 million for the procurement of roads and bridges in Mwanza and Neno||Jasten Civil Engineering|
|2017/2018||K 9 billion upgrade of theNtcheu-Tsangano-Neno-Mwanza road||MDF|
|2018/2019||K 364 million for extension of the Mwanza-Neno road.||Romix Contractors|
Source: Roads Authority (RA) and Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDAA)
While information sourced from the Roads Authority (RA) suggests that the targeted distance of upgrading the Zaka – Kambalame road was 15 km over the past 3 financial years, we have established that a distance of only about 12 km has been constructed, leaving an unmet distance of about 3 km.
Kajanga corroborated our findings that in the 2015/2016 fiscal year, Mkaka Construction Company missed its 5 km target by 1.8 km and by about 200 meters in the next contract in the 2016/17 fiscal year. In 2017/18, Kobe Construction Company missed the target by 800 meters and Romix, earmarked for the contractin the 2019/2020 fiscal year, is yet to commence extension works.
The unmet distance, mostly attributed to Acts of God such as flooding due to heavy rains by the Roads Authority, saw the taxpayers losing about K 320 million over the 3-year period.
Milestones achieved on the Mwanza-Neno road
|Financial Year||Contractor||Expected Distance||Distance Covered||Unmet outcomes||Cost of Contract|
|2015/16||Mkaka||5 km||3.2 km||1.8 km||K 347 million|
|2016/17||Mkaka||5 km||4.8 km||0.2 km||K 510 million|
|2017/18||Kobe||5 km||4.2 km||0.8 km||K 500 million|
|2019/20||Romix||3 km||–||–||K 364 million|
|12.2 km||2.8 km||K 1,721 billion|
Source: Roads Authority (RA)
While the contractors were prevented from taking responsibility of the road damage experienced due to heavy rains, the Roads Fund Administration, releases funds through the Roads Authority to cater for damage inflicted by Acts of God.
In 2015/16, records show that Neno benefited fromK125 million allocated for rehabilitation and maintenance of roads in Chiradzulu, Mwanza, Neno, Thyolo and Nsanje. In the same year, a separate K 68 million for rehabilitation works and another K156 million was allocated to Neno alongside Mwanza, Chikwawa and Nsanje for emergency and urgent works on the district’s roads in 2016/17.
Official records we have seen also show that K77 million was allocated for the procurement of roads and maintenance of bridges in Mwanza and Neno in the 2017/18. Within the same period, another K 84 million was allocated for the procurement of roads and bridges in Mwanza and Neno.
Incidentally, over K250 million was spent on a contract with technical auditors to supervise maintenance works for roads and bridges in the southern region, including Neno, in the 2017/18 fiscal year.
When asked to clarify on the actual amounts of money allocated to Neno as a district, Kajanga said the disaggregated information per district was not readily accessible.
In a later interview, RA Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel Matapa, said current cost estimate per kilometer for a
conventional designed road from earth to bitumen is about US $ 1 million (K 740 million).
“Using low volume seal, the cost estimate per kilometer is around K 300 million,” said Matapa.
He stressed that sealing of low volume sealed roads is not an upgrade, but rather enhanced maintenance employed to extend existing roads infrastructure.
Current Defective Conditions
When this reporter visited the roads recently, he observed that some significant portions of the newly built Mwanza – Neno road are already wearing off and require some correction.
In some parts, poor drainage system had increased the road’s vulnerability to accelerated damage as surface is now crumbling from the edges due to water ingress.
This runs counter to what is contained in the design manual for low volume sealed roadspublished by the ministry of transport in 2013.
The policy document stipulates that when upgrading a gravel road, the drainage system must always be functional ‘as the drainage infrastructure affects the road’s performance and ultimate life’.
Furthermore, a report issued by the Africa Community Access Partnership (AfCAP) funded by UKAid in 2017 recommended that warning signs and speed reducing measures should be put in place in all potentially hazardous sections of the road.
During a visit to the site recently, such measures had not yet been implemented, for example, on a railway line crossing paths with the road and areas near community schools along the road.
In the wake of the trail of crumbling infrastructure, Roads Authority officials say they will use funds held in the retention fee account – 50% of the 2.5% of the contract amount held by the Roads Administration Fund beyond the defects liability period – even if the contractor opts not to return under the defects liability contractual obligation.
Need for Transparency
National Construction Industry Council (NCIC) Corporate Affairs Officer Lyson Gideon – who is the Program Manager for Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST) Malawi – says there should be more transparency and accountability in the roads construction sector – from contractor details, community relations, environmental impacts to funding allocations.
“There is need to demand more accountability in the road construction sector. Duty bearers need to provide information that justifies expenditure on our roads. Demanding more accountability will see improved outcomes,” said Gideon, emphasizing on the greater role of civil society organizations should play in monitoring delivery of roads projects.