Nsanje rail line project yet to roar to action

Rehabilitation, upgrading and reconstruction of the 72- Kilometre stretch of the Nsanje-Marka rail line is yet to roar into action, four months after government officially handed over the site to the contractor. In May 2022, government did site handover to the contractor, China Railways 20th Bureau Group Corporation, also known as CR20, for the project that is…

Rehabilitation, upgrading and reconstruction of the 72-Kilometre stretch of the Nsanje-Marka rail line is yet to roar into action, four months after government officially handed over the site to the contractor.

In May 2022, government did site handover to the contractor, China Railways 20th Bureau Group Corporation, also known as CR20, for the project that is expected to last 18 months.

But there is no movement yet on the ground, we have established.

Communities in the district have told Malawi News that while workers from the construction company are sometimes seen in the area, no construction works have started.

Senior Chief Malemia in whose areas the rail line will pass also said the actual works have not started yet but the contractor has been on the ground “doing their assessments”.

“In reality, on the ground so far CR20 has been doing their assessments. Of course, those are the things that you do not see that are happening. But there is some activity on the ground.

“There might seem like there is no progress when people see things from afar but to those of us that are on the ground, I can say there is progress,” he said.

We sought government’s response on lack of works on the ground thus far, whether the project would meet deadlines and how government intends to handle importation of materials for the project considering the forex crisis the country is experiencing.

However, Ministry of Transport officials did not respond to our questions despite an assurance from Principal Secretary Hastings Chiudzu on Thursday that they would do so.

But speaking during the official handover of the rehabilitation works in May, Chiudzu said the Nsanje- Marka Railway project is one of those that had readily available funding to see it to completion as it is being locally funded through a bond.

“Let me assure you that this is perhaps one of the projects with full funding. Funding is not a problem because the government is financing it using the local finance bond so the funds are there and we do not anticipate any financial problems,” he said.

The project was hit by controversy last year when the Anti-Corruption Bureau investigated the awarding of the contract to Mota Engil.

It then recommended retendering, where CR20 eventually emerged successful bidder.

“Since we relaunched the tender in December last year you can see that within four months, we are here today with the contractor that the project should commence.

“We have a team of engineers and experts that will be here to ensure that any problems that are there are reduced and later on sorted out. Community members have welcomed the project so we are sure that the problems will not be there,” he said at the May function.

But transparency and accountability expert Willy Kambwandira had raised doubts then that the project would meet the 18-month deadline.

“Our experience has shown that projects financed by locally generated resources take time to be completed, and they are prone to corruption and abuse, and most of them have been dumped,” he said.

In October last year, Mota-Engil who had emerged the winner before the ACB stopped the awarding of the contract, had the lowest price at K48 billion against CR20’s K59.9 billion and China Civil’s K79.7.

After the retendering, CR20 was awarded the contract at K68 billion.

The rail line is part of the Sena corridor which stretches from Beira. Mozambique already constructed its 44-km section of the line from Mutarara to Marka border in Nsanje.

The project aims at strengthening bilateral ties between Mozambique and Malawi but also reduce the cost of trade for Malawi.

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