Differences between Malawi Government and a contractor over K600 million payment for a gravity-fed water scheme in Phalombe threatens livelihoods of 43 000 households as they risk losing access to clean water.
The contractor, Fisd Limited, an indigenous Malawian-owned company, has threatened to dismantle equipment, including a solar panel and pipes in Traditional Authority Chiwalo’s area.
Initially, the company set December 1 2021 as the date when it would dismantle the equipment, but community leaders yesterday summoned to a meeting the company’s executives and pleaded that the decision be pended as they ask relevant authorities to intervene.
In an interview yesterday, Chiwalo said that when they were informed of the decision by the company to uninstall the equipment, community leaders and the district commissioner’s (DC) office were engaged to find a way forward.
The chief said: “As a community, we are very saddened that they [Fisd] will be uninstalling the equipment. It has been helpful in the supply of clean water and without the project, we are going back to unsafe water sources.”
Chiwalo said nine group village heads have been benefitting from the water supply system. He said at least 700 villagers are also employed under the scheme.
In a separate interview, councillor for Swang’oma Ward in Phalombe North East Constituency, Luka Jeffrey, said if the company proceeds to remove the equipment, there is likelihood that cases of cholera will rise in the community.
He said that after engaging the DC’s office on the matter, they expect that a lasting solution will be reached before Wednesday to benefit both the company and the community.
One of the villagers who was employed under the project, Rachel Henderson from Chambeni Village, said the removal of the water system will leave women walking long distances to search for safe water.
“I was also employed under the project and I am waiting to be paid for over six months now. When we ask the contractor [Fisd], we are told that the government is yet to pay them. This is unfair because that has also affected us,” she said.
Henderson said the company owes her about K106 000 in unpaid wages due to government’s failure to settle the outstanding amount. She said there are other labourers owed more than her amount and some less than that.
In an interview in Phalombe yesterday, Fisd Construction chief executive officer Raymond Mwenitete said they have been engaging relevant authorities on the matter for over two years to no avail.
He said: “Financially, this has affected us. We obtained loans, especially from Ecobank which wants to sell our head office in Lilongwe as we used it as collateral in obtaining that loan. We are a construction company, not a donor.”
In a separate interview, Phalombe DC Rodrick Mateauma said his office is aware of the situation and has since written to relevant authorities on the matter.
He said: “I also heard it from the communities when they approached me so I have referred it to relevant authorities and perhaps in the course of the week, we will get feedback and see the way forward.”
But our efforts to talk to programme manager for the project, Kondwani Msowoya, proved futile as he could not be reached on his mobile number.
The contract for the construction and rehabilitation works was awarded to the company in 2019 under the Sustainable Rural Water Infrastructure for Improved Health and Livelihood Project and funded by the African Development Fund (ADF).
Government is refusing to pay the contractor, arguing that the works were not sanctioned by a consultant.