The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has asked government to reject a proposed 40 percent budget increase request on Marka-Bangula railway line, which is expected to rise from the initially contracted budget of K68.2 billion to a staggering K96.2 billion.
In a statement released on September, HRDC Chairperson Gift Trapence said despite that projects like the Marka-Bangula railway line are vital for the development of our nation, the request raises serious questions and concerns among the general public who are tax payers.
“These projects hold the potential to create jobs, boost economic growth, and enhance transportation networks, which are all pivotal components of a prosperous and equitable society. However, for such projects to serve the best interests of our citizens, they must be conducted transparently, efficiently, and accountably.
“The proposed 40 percent increase in the budget for the Marka-Bangula railway line raises serious questions and concerns among the general public who are tax payers. While we understand that unexpected challenges can arise during large-scale projects, we believe it is crucial to scrutinize the justifications provided by the contractor for this substantial cost increase.
“The contractor’s assertion that the cost of the project has surged due to soil investigations surveys for the existing railway alignment and the effects of cyclones Ana, Gombe, and Freddy among other related issues. HRDC has more questions to many contractors who would want to ask more price adjustments in the midst of project implementation and yet it is the very same contractors that submit lower bids in order to win contracts,” said Trapence in a statement.
He said it has become a distressing trend for contractors to submit lower bids during project tendering processes only to later request significant budget increases.
“This practice puts a heavy burden on the government and, by extension, the Malawian taxpayer. We demand accountability from both contractors and the relevant government agencies responsible for overseeing these projects.
“We urge the Ministry of Transport and Public Works to provide comprehensive details of the additional expenses incurred due to soil investigations and cyclone-related issues. Transparent reporting is vital to ensure that taxpayers can trust that their money is being spent wisely and efficiently,” he said
He said the proposed 40 percent budget contract increase for the Marka-Bangula railway line cannot be viewed in isolation as Malawians are already grappling with financial challenges, and these unexpected escalations further strain our already overburdened taxpayers.
“This raises questions about the government’s commitment to its citizens’ well-being. It is essential to hold contractors accountable for the accuracy of their initial project estimates. Contractors who submit unrealistically low bids with the intention of revising budgets later should face consequences for their actions, including potential legal and financial penalties and even termination of such contracts.
HRDC has requested urged the ministry to conduct a thorough and impartial review of the budget increase for the Marka-Bangula railway line, including an independent assessment of the contractor’s justifications.