President Peter Mutharika’s aspiration for improved infrastructure faces a scary task in the wake of receding donor support and weakening domestic revenue trends.
Over the past weeks, Mutharika has launched several development projects nationwide. Similarly, he has made several pronouncements about impending long-term and short-term projects he intends to initiate.
However, while certain details such as source of funding and the projects’ costs have been made public for some of the expansive infrastructure blitz, the same remains blurred for others.
Among the most recent projects where Mutharika has laid foundation stones include the 186 kilometres (km) Blantyre Bypass Road and the 16km Clock Tower to Chileka Airport dual carriageway.
During the commissioning of the dual carriageway, Mutharika also said his government would construct a tarmac road from Chileka Airport to Mpatamanga up to Mwanza District.
Again, while on a whistle-stop tour on return from his Christmas and New Year’s holiday at Chikoko Bay State Lodge in Mangochi last month, he told people in the district he would construct the Mangochi-Makanjira Road.
Although the Ministry of Transport and Public Works has shielded Mutharika on the projects, The Nation has established that there is no indication that construction works would start anytime soon.
Further, our analysis of the 2017/18 National Budget reveals there is no allocation of funds towards construction of the two roads.
According to the 2017/18 estimates under Budget Document Number 3 produced by Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, construction of tarmac roads from Mangochi to Makanjira and Chileka Airport to Mpatamanga are not among 23 road projects to be considered either through domestic revenue or donor support—at least in a short time.
Malawi relies on development partners to finance at least 90 percent of its capital expenditure either through loans or direct investments.
Mutharika’s pledge to construct the Mangochi-Makanjira Road comes nearly three years after he made a similar promise in October 2015.
“A team of experts from China will meet their Malawi counterparts in December  to discuss technicalities of the 129.5 km Mangochi-Makanjira Road estimated to cost $152 million,” he said.
When contacted on the projects, Roads Authority (RA) spokesperson Portia Kajanga referred The Nation to the Ministry of Transport and Public Works.
But the minister responsible Jappie Mhango in an interview on Saturday confessed the Mangochi-Makanjjira Road construction would not start now; hence, missing in the budget.
He said: “The road forms part of the seven projects we negotiated with the Chinese so its construction will not start now.”
Mhango also confirmed the Chileka Airport to Mpatamanga Road was also not an immediate project.
“Those are future projects that are being considered and prioritised for construction… When the President speaks, that is a policy direction but it does not mean the project will start immediately.
“Development is a process and we tackle one project after another. Once the President makes a decree, the issue of financing is the duty of technocrats and responsible agencies,” he said.
But University of Livingstonia (Unilia) political scientist George Phiri argued that some of Mutharika’s promises are targeting next year’s polls.
“But it’s an unfortunate situation because the promises, the resources and the time don’t go together well, according to the present information we have over his promises… there is no collation between the promises and strategies or methodologies on how they will be done,” he said.
Thus, Phiri said Malawians should forget about the projects’ sustainability as they are based on promises and not regulated by government policies which live to their time even if a different president takes over.
It is also unclear how the Blantyre bypass will be financed. During its commissioning, Mutharika was non-committal on the source of funding.
The road will start from Chigumula, pass through Mpemba, Michiru, Chileka Airport, Lunzu, Mapanga, Njuli Quarry and cut through Chiradzulu Turn-off to Mzedi in Chiradzulu District through to Bangwe and back to Chigumula.
While its total cost is currently unknown, The Nation has established that so far government has put aside about K4.7 billion for the project.
This is enough for the contractor, Tahit Networks, to cover the first 13km (Chigumula to Mpemba).
Similarly, the total cost and source of funding for the Clock Tower-Chileka Airport dual carriageway is yet to be made public.
“These projects will be done in phases. The idea is to have the dual carriage reach Chileka Airport but meanwhile we are starting with Clock Tower to Kameza Roundabout,” explained Anthony Kasunda, spokesperson of Blantyre City Council, adding that so far K11 411 957 489.70 has been allocated to the 8.3km stretch which will be constructed by Mota Engil.
But Mhango said every year government will be putting money in the national budget until the project is completed.
“These are big projects and cannot be completed within a year that is why we are phasing them. But money for the initial phases is available,” he said.
Recent findings of the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST) 2017 Assurance Report on construction projects reveal that tens of projects, notably roads and hospitals, remain uncompleted and in some cases are yet to start, several years after their initiation.
During this financial year, the Roads Fund Administration (RFA) plans to spend about K32.3 billion on roads construction and maintenance in both urban and rural areas.
The money has been sourced from fuel levy, international transit fees and road users’ fees or foreign registered saloon vehicles. n