The Parliamentary Committee on International Relations has taken to task the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security for allegedly spending about K400 million on soil testing before the start of construction works for a new Blantyre Police Station office complex.
The committee has since called for an investigation into the matter that has surprised a construction engineer who said on Saturday that the amount is way ‘exorbitant’ for soil testing.
But Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Cecilia Chazama told Nation on Sunday that the expenditure included soil testing and other preliminary works such as a feasibility study.
According to budget documents, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security was allocated about K500 million in the 2017/18 financial year out of which K400 million was disbursed to the ministry and allegedly used for soil testing.
In an interview, chairperson for the parliamentary committee on International Relations, Defence and Security Alex Major—who recently raised the issue in Parliament—said it was unbelievable that such a sum of money could be spent on soil testing alone.
He said the committee wants the Accountant General and the Auditor General to investigate the issue.
“It came to our attention during cluster meetings that the ministry spent such an amount for soil testing. This is wastefulness and we demand an explanation on how this money was spent,” said Major.
According experts in construction, soil testing entails ascertaining the soil properties to assess if it has capacity to carry the load meant to rest on it.
The artistic impression for the new Blantyre Police Station indicates that it will be a two-storey building with a basement. The total cost of the project is estimated at K6 billion.
Commenting on the matter, engineer Washington Chimuzu said while soil testing would differ from one project to another, K400 million remains on the higher side to be spent on such an undertaking alone.
Said Chimuzu: “The figure of K400 million seems exorbitant for soil testing alone and you may appreciate fees for some of the standard tests carried out by the Central Materials Laboratory,” he said.
The proposed cost for some of the soil tests for 2015 from Central Materials laboratory we have seen, cite marshal mix design for hot asphalt as the most expensive test at an estimated 150 000 while particle size distribution by Hydrometer analysis is estimated at K15 000.
But in a telephone interview on Saturday, Chazama insisted that the expenditure is justified as it catered for both soil testing and a feasibility study.
“It was not only about soil testing. It has to do with soil testing and feasibility study and everything that comes with it. People just choose to misunderstand things. I can tell you the progress on the project is very positive.
“We have moved very fast and I can assure you that by September work will start. You see, I am mentioning September just to be on the safe side but it could be as early as August,” said Chazama.
Chimuzu, however, added that even if the feasibility study were to be factored in, the amount still appeared on the higher side.
“By definition, a feasibility study is undertaken to analyse and evaluate a proposed project to determine if it is technically feasible, is feasible within the estimated cost, and will be profitable. Feasibility studies are almost always conducted where large sums are at stake and in the case of public projects which seek donor or private sector financing.
“Considering that the intended occupant is the Malawi Police Service, one would expect that the project will be funded fully from public resources. One would also expect that a lot of consultations have already taken place now and established the requirements that the occupant needs. The Department of Buildings under the Ministry of Transport and Public Works does have a team of architects, engineers and quantity surveyors who undertake different government projects from time to time. However, line ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) also engage professionals from the private sector for the same works in line with the NCIC [National Construction Industry Council] policy.
“Again, this figure seems exorbitant unless if professional fees for consulting architects, engineers and quantity surveyors are included. One may also wish to query the justification of feasibility studies for a project of this nature which has been under discussion for several years now. Greater transparency is needed in order for the public, among other key stakeholders, to be better informed and provide input that could enhance the project further,” he said.
But Major said according to the report which was presented to his committee during cluster meetings of Parliament, the ministry spent K430 million on soil testing.
“The year under review saw government giving the ministry of Home Affairs K430 million going down the drain as the building of Blantyre Police Station is very far from starting. The Ministry spent this money on testing soils. I am saying K430 million in this current year has been squandered,” reads part of the statement Major presented in the august House some days ago.
Major told Nation on Sunday that his committee will push for justice on the matter.
“The issue of feasibility study does not make sense. Feasibility for what purpose? This is how we waste public funds in the name of such activities. But as far as we are concerned K430 million is just too much for such activities. With such an amount we should have seen some real progress on the site”.
Ministry of Transport and Public Works spokesperson James Chakwera asked for more time before responding since such activities fall under them.
After the questionable K400 million expenditure, government has proposed an allocation of K700 million for the same project in the 2018/19 financial year.