By May this year, at least 150 000 residents of Nkhata Bay Boma and surrounding areas are supposed to have access to potable and safe drinking water.
But that is unlikely to happen because of delays in implementation of the Nkhata Bay Water Supply Project by Chinese construction company, China Engineering Construction Corporation (CECC).
The delays have now irked Members of Parliament who toured the project recently.
The MPs, apart from the delays, also expressed disappointment with the contractor’s performance, saying the works are contrary to the initial plan from the client, Northern Region Water Board (NRWB).
The poor quality of works by CECC, coupled with the delays, have resulted in multiple deadline extensions that will see expectant residents wait for as long as up to September this year to have a drop of the life saving liquid.
The delays in the $18.58 million project are also due to slack in mobilization of equipment and material by the contractor, according to experts at NRWB.
The contractor has since indicated that the project will miss its deadline of May and is likely to go beyond September with no certain date of completion.
But CECC’s track record should have raised alarm bells well before they signed the deal.
CECC has been notorious the world over for shoddy work on big projects and mistreatment of its workers.
The company came to Malawi with a trail of industrial blunders from other African economies like Nigeria where they faced strong protests over discrimination, poor safety and deplorable labour practices.
In 2015 the company also faced a massive protest over its decision to dismiss over 500 employees.
Workers also raised concerns about the company’s poor safety record, which led to serious injuries and deaths.
There was also an outcry on disparities between local workers and Chinese ‘expatriates’ in terms of both treatment and fairness of pay.
The company’s controversial performance spans the globe.
In 2019, it faced legal action in the Cook Islands over a water project called TeMato Vai, whose initial price tag was blown out by an extra $20 million from $40 million to $60 million.
Millions of dollars more were used to rehabilitate a 17- kilometre stretch that had broken pipes and heavy leakages even before the project was handed over to government.
The government of Cook Islands sued the company and demanded a do-over of the project, but CECC denied liability of over $9 million for rehabilitation.
The tainted record in water supply projects raise questions of whether government did due diligence and why it settled for the Chinese company to carry out a similar project in Nkhatabay.
The K21.7 billion Nkhatabay Water Supply Project is expected to benefit about 150,000 residents of Nkhatabay Boma and surrounding areas.
The project will involve upgrading the treatment plant to increase production capacity from 2350 cubic metres per day to 19263 cubic metres at five different locations.
It is poised to increase residents’ access to potable water from 37 to 90 percent and access sanitation facilities from 45 to 85 percent.