Lilongwe, June 18, 2015: Funding problems have threatened to choke the successful implementation of projects under the Green Belt Initiative (GBI), as a contractor who was hired has been forced to suspend work as a result nonpayment of money he is being owed.
Works at Chikwawa Irrigation Scheme in Salima have stalled after the contractor who was engaged to help set up machinery and rolling out of the sugarcane production project abandoned it due financial constraints.
This came to light when GBI took members of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture on a familiarization tour to help them be acquainted with projects that are being carried out under the Initiative which was set up several years ago and was championed by late president Professor Bingu wa Mutharika.
Members of the committee were taken to inspect work at the site of the irrigation scheme as well as the sugar factory construction site which will be processing all the sugarcane expected to be produced from the irrigation scheme.
Acting National Coordinator for GBI, Dr Henry Njoloma told members of the committee that work has been temporarily suspended after the contractor demobilized operations due to an outstanding payment which is now standing at MK100 billion.
“About two years ago we started this work as an initial GBI project, but due to the financial constraints that we are facing the contractor suspended all activities when he was at 85% completion; so if you ask where are we, I will say we are almost done: but because the contractor has temporarily demobilized as it is costly to maintain staff when he is not being paid. So he is not here’ and that is why you are seeing these structures in this poor state.
“We owe the constructor MK800 million in principle, over and above that he has been charging interest which is now at MK300 million; so if you sum it up it is about MK1.1 billion that we need to pay him. For a contractor to maintain his staff here and to continue working we need to continuously pay him because that is what the contract says,” said Dr Njoloma.
Under the initial arrangement and if the planned time was observed, MK2 billion was budgeted for, to have the project off the ground in nine months time but because of the time lapses more money is expected to be pumped into the project.
During the 2014/2015 financial year, a total of MK2 billion was allocated towards GBI functions; actually, from that sum only MK400 million was made available to the initiative.
At the moment work that is remaining to be completed is estimated to cost at least K1.5 billion and the officials from GBI remain hopeful that the required funds will be made available in good time for the project to resume at the site.
“We have been lobbying treasury quite a lot for a long time; we have had several meetings with them chaired by the Chief Secretary himself who has also lamented that we need money to finish off this project. We are still banking on treasury that they will pay this contractor, and we understand that we are recovering from a financial crisis, so there is a limit on how far we can push,” he said
In this year’s budget allocation which is currently under debate in parliament, an estimated allocation of MK1.2 billion has been reserved for GBI programmes.
Deputy Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture Dr Joseph Chidanti-Malunga said as a committee they will take up the issue with the line Minister to see if changes can be made on the money allocated to GBI.
“It is very clear that this project has the potential to change the living standards of the smallholder farmers who will be involved and also contribute significantly to the economic development of this country.
“Looking at the money that has been projected for this programme this financial year, it is apalling in comparison with the figures that are required to have the project back in operation here. We will go back and help in the lobbying so that the required funds are made available,” said Dr Chidanti-Malunga.
The Chikwawa sugarcane irrigation scheme was earmarked to act as a fodder for the sugar processing factory currently under construction in the same district of Salima. The scheme has three components, having a smallholder component of 530 hectares based on the centre pivot irrigation system which were already installed and once it rolls out, 250 smallholder farmers are expected to directly benefit from the scheme.