Ministry of Transport and Public Works has settled for a Chinese firm as the contractor of the behind-schedule 44-kilometre Bangula-Marka railway project which will now cost K20 billion more.
Initially, the project, which will reconnect Malawi by rail to the Mozambican Indian Ocean coast port of Beira, was awarded to Prtuguese construction and multi-disciplinary conglomerate Mota-Engil, but the contract was later cancelled.
In an interview on Friday, Minister of Transport and Public Works Jacob Hara justified the increase in the cost of the project, saying it was due to the change in design of the railway line to match the Mozambican standard.
He said the scope of work had changed, leading to an increase in the cost of the project.
Hara said: “There are now more works besides the railway. I also changed the bearing load capacity of the rail in order to match what our Mozambican counterparts have already constructed on their side. It is now 20.5 tonne/axle load from the previous 18 tonne/axle load.”
Last year, Mota Engil emerged as the successful lowest bidder for the rail project contract with an offer of K48 billion, but the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) nullified the tender, citing procurement irregularities.
However, with guidance from the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA), the Ministry of Transport and Public Works re-tendered the project and settled for China Railway 20 Bureau Group whose offer is K68 279 419 400.85, according to the notification of intention to award contract published in The Nation on Friday.
Reads the notice in part: “The Government of the Republic of Malawi through the Ministry of Transport and Public Works budgeted funds towards the cost of design, rehabilitation and upgrading of the Marka to Bangula railway section.”
The current cost of the project is also K8 billion more than what China Railway had initially offered in the tender.
China Railway quoted K59 906 673 465.11, making it the second cheapest from Mota-Engil which pegged it at K48 244 861 524.98 out of the top three bidders as China Civil Engineering offered K79 766 540 032.76.
But Hara said this time around they have used restricted tender and only invited bidders who took part in the first cancelled tender submitted the bids.
The minister could, however, not provide details on the prices offered by bidders in the restricted tender while the ministry’s Principal Secretary Hastings Chiudzu referred us to an official identified as Ganizani Liwewe from the planning department. Liwewe is yet to respond to our questionnaire.
It is not clear why the ministry, during the first tender, did not decide to have a railway line matching the Mozambican standard despite government officials touring the said rail in Mozambique in May last year.
This was the same time the Mozambican President officially launched the rehabilitation works for their 44-kilometre stretch from Mutarara to Marka. By the time of the launch, Mozambique had done over half of the stretch on its part.
During the same visit, Malawi and Mozambique signed a memorandum of understanding in which it was committed that the rehabilitation works should be completed by this month, yet the actual works in Malawi are yet to start.
According to the project feasibility study report released in 2015, Beira and Nacala handle over 90 percent of Malawi’s imports and exports.
The Sena line connecting to Beira was closed in the 1980s following the civil war in Mozambique.