The government of Malawi has since 2013 spent over K4 billion from the public purse to compensate property owners affected by road construction and rehabilitation, even though encroachment of road reserves is a crime in Malawi.
Road Fund Administration (RFA) spokesperson Masauko Ngwaluko in an emailed response last week disclosed that in the past five years RFA has given over K4 billion as compensation after verifying the properties in question.
But Minister of Transport and Public Works Jappie Mhango in a telephone interview said people who invade the road reserve space should rather be punished and compensated.
Said Mhango: “I can assure you that the government will no longer pay out even a single tambala to those that encroach road reserves. The thing is that we do not want to promote lawlessness. For the past years we have been promoting impunity by compensating people who break the law. Time is up for all those who think they can do whatever they want on government land.”
Ngwaluko said the government paid out K962 686 489.00 in 2013, K387 705 136.60 in 2014, K834 529 137.98 in 2015, while in 2016 and 2017 government paid K774 414 997.64 and K869 570 636.36 respectively to as compensation to road encroachers.
The warning by Mhango has come against the background that a barrage of structures continues to sprout on the road reserve of smajor roads across the country including the Blantyre to Lilongwe through Zomba and Zalewa.
People have been building residential houses, shops and filling stations along road on space clearly marked as with road reserve boundaries (RRB)s aimed at protecting land earmarked for the expansion of roads.
Currently new structures such as shops and filling stations are being constructed in defiance of the road reserve at Chimbiya trading centre in Dedza in defiance of the law.
The same trends are common on the M3 road between Limbe and Zomba, Blantyre to Mwanza, Lilongwe to Mzuzu among other places.
According to the minister Mhango, this is causing the government to squeeze its purse whenever it wants to expand roads apart from being a recipe for accidents as structures are too close to roads.
When asked why the Ministry of Transport does not enforce the law, Mhango said the ministry was finding it difficult to check out all invaders without the help of other stakeholders.
He pointed out that roads that pass through districts are supposed to be policed by district councils.
Ministry of Local Government spokesperson Muhlabase Mughogho hinted that the responsibility for monitoring roads was spread over a number of entities.
“That has always been the responsibility of the Roads Authority (RA) and Ministry of Transport but with the decentralization process things are changing. It is a joint responsibility of councils and RA. Primarily, councils monitor tertiary and district roads within their jurisdiction.
RA spokesperson, Portia Kajanga said she was not in a position to respond to our emailed questionnaire.
Former Minister of Transport and Public Works Francis Kasaila told our sister paper, The Nation last year that the government was finding it increasingly difficult to honour all compensations due to the high payments involved.
But Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe in a telephone interview last Friday while the government would still continue putting aside money for compensation purposes, MDAs responsible had to justify the payments.
Said Gondwe: “The compensations budget line is not necessarily designed for people whose properties get demolished but looks at a wider scope. As such, it would be difficult for finance not to fund it altogether. However the ministries responsible should follow government policy when making the payments.”
In January 2016 Road Fund Administration (RFA) spokesperson Masauko Ngwaluko said compensations spent K1.167 billion between January and December.
In 2016 the Roads Authority (RA) was forced to suspend construction works on the Jenda-Edingeni Road in Mzimba as parties would not agree on compensation matters.
During the same period, a row over compensation stalled construction of the K40 billion Lilongwe-Kasiya-Santhe Road where RFA officials said they had spent over K1 billion in compensating encroachers on Road Reserve.
In Mzuzu City road construction works for K16.7 billion also stalled as residents continued to cling to the road reserve settlements despite having been compensated in 2014. The city had earmarked properties valued at over K1.1 billion for demolition.
There was a similar scenario in May 2016 between residents of Kachere Township in Blantyre during the construction of the K12 billion Blantyre-Zomba (M3) road.
Construction work for the K50 billion Njakwa-Livingstonia-Chitimba Road project in Rumphi also stalled as 500 property owners on road reserve wanted compensation.