Roads body’s deals exposed

  • Contracts awarded to uncertified entities

The Roads Authority (RA) has been awarding contracts to two entities that lack requisitecertifications, revealsWeekend Nation.

Not only did the move breach procurement and construction laws, RA’s decision also ignored its own rules outlined in its invitation for bids.

Malawi Defence Force engineers working on site

The National Construction IndustryCouncil (NCIC) Act of 1997 prohibits awarding of engineering and construction works contracts to unregistered contractors.

Part 6, Section 20 subsections (1), (2) and (3) of the National Construction Industry Council (NCIC) Act explicitly prohibit any contractor from carrying out construction business without being registered at the NCIC.

NCCIC and a legal expert said in an interview on Thursday the two firms Rommex and the Engineers Battalion of the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) should never have been given road construction contracts because they don’t have requisite certification.

NCIC corporate affairs officer Lyson Gideon verified that both Rommex and the Engineers Battalion are not certified to engage in road construction work in Malawi.

“Our records do not show Rommex anywhere. But while the Engineers Battalion (of the MDF) is in our records, they were only registered for the purpose of completing construction of the Area 43 access road. Their certification was a once-off arrangement,” said Gideon in an interview on Wednesday.

 He added: “MDF were granted a permit to manage only the Area 43 access road from the period of construction to the completion of the project.”

According to Gideon , contravening the law on awarding of contracts makes the procurement process vulnerable to corruption. He said firms registered with NCIC are vetted on a number of aspects from capacity to deliver based on resources to experience of workers and past experience.

Furthermore, RA’s internal procurement regulations prohibit the evaluation of expressions of interest and tender offers from respondents or bidders who are not registered in an appropriate contractor grading designation with the NCIC and registered as a business at the Office of the Registrar General.

Chancellor College Law Professor Garton Kamchedzera faulted NCIC, Roads Authority (RA) and Capital Hill for being complicit in failing to comply with laws governing awarding of contracts in the case of the MDF.

 “MDF is not legally or financially autonomous . No law authorises them to engage in commerce. If the road construction was commissioned as public work, then it would be noncompliance with the Public Procurement Ac t as the Engineers Battalion or the army has no legal capacity to qualify as a bidder,” said Kamchedzera, wondering how the proceeds would be utilised.

He observed that if the law was followed to the letter, the MDF should have been disqualified due to non-submission of relevant details, including certifications.

“It smells like a fraudulent design impliedly facilitated by those who should ensure compliance with the law,” he said.

An investigation by this reporter has established that Rommex which RA spokersperson Portia Kajanga said was a South African company, was last year contracted to construct a three-kilometre stretch on the Zaka-Kambalame Road in Neno to the tune of K330 million despite not being on NCIC’s books.

On the other hand, the Engineering Battalion, a wing of MDF, was in the 2017/18 financial year engaged to construct 20 kilometres of the Ntcheu-Tsangano-NenoMwanza Road, worth K9 billion.

Kajanga told this reporter, in an earlier interview on Wednesday, that Rommex was already mobilising to start construction works on the Zaka–Kambalame Road in Neno before communicating later that RA was yet to finalise details of the contract with Rommex, and that construction works may delay.

Since there were no details of Rommex at the NCIC and our request for their contact details from RA were not fruitful, we could not talk to them on NCIC’s claim that the firm is not registered in Malawi.

When this reporter informed Kajanga that I had verified with the NCIC that no company called Rommex was registered with NCIC, she acknowledged the firm was yet to register at the NCIC, but described it as normal.

Kajanga declined to comment on the involvement of the MDF’s Engineers Battalion which does not meet basic contract requirements as laid down in the laws and internal procurement policies at RA.

MDF spokesperson Major Paul Chiphwanya was yet to respond to our inquiry regarding the legal status and the eligibility of the Engineers Battalion to carry out road construction contracts on a commercial scale.

The controversy surrounding the registration of the Engineers Battalion started in 2015 when the entity was contracted to construct the 11-km access road in the Area 43 suburb in Lilongwe over a registration abnormality.

When Central Government, through Ministry of Lands as the contracting entity, intervened, the military engineering outfit was given temporary relief by being registered in the unlimited category, only for the K803 million project.

Ironically, a company owned by then Roads Authority CEO Trevor Hiwa, Infracon Limited, was engaged as a consultant for the Area 43 contract, awarded in controversial circumstances. Despite being licensed to carry out a single construction assignment, the army construction outfit has grown in leaps and bounds and is now one of the country’s big contractors.

The Engineers Battalion was also contracted by the Blantyre City Council to construct a bridge and a couple of roads in the commercial capital.

ocuments we have seen indicate that in soliciting expression of interest for the construction works for the two roads NtcheuTsangano-Neno-Mwanza and the Zaka–Kambalame Roads—RA invited contractors that were duly registered and autonomous under company law.

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