In this interview with our Lilongwe Bureau Chief Edyth Kambalame, the Roads Authority’s new board chairperson Matilda Matabwa speaks on various issues concerning the authority, a key player in the country’s development.
Q. Congratulations on your new position. Tell us a bit about yourself.
A. Thank you very much for having me. I am Rev Dr Matilda Tumalike Matabwa, a Malawi Assemblies of God ordained pastor with a Master of Arts in Organisational Leadership from the Global University in Springfield Missouri (USA) under the supervision of Cape Theological Seminary in Cape Town in 2012, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Strategic Management obtained from LIGS University in Hawaii in July 2021.
I am the secretary general of Malawi Assemblies of God, having served in that position for the past seven years. I am also on several boards such as the Public Affairs Committee, African Women Leaders Network (AWLN), Multi-faith Action Coordination Committee of East and Southern Africa, Emmanuel University, and the Evangelical Association of Malawi. I know what it means to be a custodian of an institution because of the transferable skills that I have acquired through my membership in these boards.
So, with this background, I am able to provide strategic direction for the success of the Roads Authority and to ensure that the authority runs in accordance with its mandate and vision.
Q. What will it take to have the country’s road network in its desired state?
A. This is a critical time indeed. Roads, like any other infrastructure, need periodical maintenance and rehabilitation. Regular and constant maintenance programmes help to keep infrastructure including road infrastructure in good shape.
So, we have arrived at this stage through years of poor or no maintenance programmes on some of our roads such that there is a backlog of work.
You should also appreciate that Malawi has several other good programmes that require resource allocation to address the needs of the citizenry, besides the road infrastructure. There are always competing needs for our resources—issues of health, education, and food security, among others.
Q. The Roads Authority is a key government institution in as far as efforts to achieve the Malawi 2063 (MW2063) blueprint are concerned. How do you plan to enhance the authority’s functions?
A. Malawi’s transformation agenda focuses on achieving the MIP-1 goal of creating “an inclusively wealthy and self-reliant industrialised upper-middle-income country” by 2030. Therefore, the importance of road infrastructure can never be over-emphasised.
The Roads Authority had a five-year Strategic Plan (2017-2022) which will be reviewed to highlight key challenges faced during the just-ended strategic period. As a new board, we will build on the just-ended strategic plan to develop a new strategic plan and systematically address challenges. My priority is to ensure that we quickly put in place a successor strategic plan to guide the Roads Authority.
Q. There have been concerns regarding funding for road projects, which leads to delays in completion of projects as well as cost overruns. Is there an end in sight to these challenges?
A. There is an end, even though it may take time. As a board, we aim to increase and diversify resource mobilisation to fund quality repairs and new roads. Of course, there are other aspects of delays. Delays are not a function of funding only. Some delays are due to inadequate capacity of some contractors, issues of forex, or fuel, etc. But if all players are in place, a project cannot delay. Collaboration between all key stakeholders is key in speeding up road projects.
Q. Some have questioned why the Roads Authority embarks on or approves several projects at once and struggles to complete them?
A. It is not the case. This could be perception. No road is embarked on without adequate funding. All procedures are followed before procurement starts. All approvals are in place before commencements.
Q. Does the Roads Authority have robust monitoring mechanisms to ensure contractors deliver according to specifications?
A. The quality of delivered projects is a function of many factors and players. Players in the industry must collaboratively work together. Regulators must be given adequate tools, authority, and powers to play their roles; our training institutions must produce well-baked professionals to construct our roads; procurement specialists must ethically and professionally manage the procurement process to ensure hiring the best-placed goods and services contractor.
But to answer your question, the Roads Authority has robust monitoring mechanisms to ensure contractors deliver according to specifications. We engage a supervision consultant on every project undertaken to ensure it is implemented according to the specifications. The consultant is deployed full-time on-site to monitor the operations of the contractor on a daily basis. They carry out different tests at every stage to confirm that the completed works meet the minimum specifications.
Furthermore, the Roads Authority engineers periodically carry out monitoring of the projects to ascertain that the works are being implemented as planned. Of course, this is an honest concern shared by almost every citizen in this country. So, this board is continuously engaging contractors through appropriate structures to attain the desired performance. The Roads Authority will implement a Contractors’ Evaluation Mechanism to penalise nonperforming or poor-performing contractors, including reporting them to relevant stakeholders for posterity during future procurements.
Q. Any additional comments?
A. The general public should be aware that it has taken a long time to revamp
and rehabilitate the M1 Road, and the Roads Authority has taken a bold step to transform it. It requires all of us to work together. Let us not vandalise our roads. We also need to increase weighbridges to monitor the process of loading vehicles; the Roads Authority will improve the capacity of our local contractors who do the bulk of new road constructions and even repairs; we will strengthen the regulatory framework; and increase the diversification of resource mobilisation to fund quality roads.
The Roads Authority shall also explore performance-based contracts. If a contractor is tasked to fill potholes or maintain a road or even upgrade a road, that contract should be based on performance. If something remains undone, then they have not fully met the performance expectations and no payment should be made as per the contract.