China Railway 20 Bureau Corporation, a company earmarked to be awarded the Marka-Bangula railway construction project, has no capacity for such kind of work and will not create adequate local jobs due to high volumes of imported materials, Malawi Gazette has learnt.
The project was initially awarded to Mota Engil following a 2020 bidding process only to be withdrawn months later by the Anti Corruption Bureau after it was established that the evaluation committee overlooked some contractual issues.
Ironically, there has been an outcry within the civil society fraternity that ACB director, Martha Chizuma, received kickbacks amounting to $70,000 from China Railway 20 to cancel the initial contract.
With just few weeks to go before Ministry of Transport awards the contract to China Railway 20, more disturbing information is emerging on outstanding anomalies that may further delay implementation.
One key inadequacy on the part of CR20 is that they have no capacity to produce railway sleepers, one of the key components used in railway construction.
Railway sleepers are large heavy beams that support the rails and are laid transversely across the whole stretch of the railway line.
Normally, railway construction companies are supposed to have their own fully fledged laboratory and sleeper manufacturing factory.
Production of sleepers involves lab tests, internal quality control and proper government regulation.
This means a company like China Railway must explore ways to get their construction material – sleepers inclusive – tested.
Testing and approval of sleepers alone takes at least three months. As such any importation of key components of railway construction will affect delivery timelines.
Malawi is already running against time to connect the 72-kilometer railway line to the Mozambique border. The neighboring country already connected their railway line to the border on the other side of Nsanje.
In terms of creation of jobs on the local market, the importation of sleepers will automatically export thousands of jobs to China instead of leaving those jobs for Malawians.
The whole value chain of producing and sailing the sleepers to the African coast then transporting them by trucks to Malawi will only favour Chinese construction and shipping companies and Mozambican or Tanzanian logistics companies.
Authority voices within the industry say China Railway should have considered buying the sleepers right here in Malawi as there are local companies that manufacture these.
The industry experts say they are surprised that the Ministry is settling for China Railway 20 while all these anomalies have not yet been addressed.
It has also been learnt that after the second round of bidding, there still emerge discrepancies in how the company has comparatively analyzed their project costs between the November 2020 and January 2022 bidding processes.
It seems the company took the resubmission of bids simply as textbook exercise just throwing numbers around without carefully attending to critical matters such as earthworks and superstructure materials. There was no standard price adjustment formula they followed.
Expert insiders that participated in the tender process have further queried why the Chinese company has in some instances made downward changes when their prices are expected to increase.