Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has written Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) Limited to halt the demolition of its fire gutted Escom House in Blantyre, saying the K675 million payment just to bring down the building is astronomical.
K675 million to bring down Escom House in Blantyre.
The Escom House demolition issue sparked debate on social media platforms, when a document purported to be part of the tendering process went into circulation and indicated that some bidders offered to undertake the assignment at less than K675 million.
In a letter, Kawelo Lawyers firm, acting on behalf of HRDC, says it wants justification on the K675 million charge for the exercise.
"The first anomaly that our client noticed is that the figure of the contract itself, looks exorbitant and unjustifiable," says the letter in part.
Vice chairperson of HRDC, Gift Trapence, says what the rights activists want is the cancellation of the whole contract altogether.
"Why did Escom refuse to award the contract which just wanted K136 million and opted for somebody who is demanding K675 million.
"This is tax payer money. Malawians want value for their money. It is impossible to use all that money just for demolition of a bulding," said Trapence.
The contract has been awarded to Irrigwater and Mining Equipment which is owned by Zimbabwean Brighton Chirairo, who in turn has subcontracted it to a South African company.
Spokesperson for Escom Innocent Chitosi, justified the amount, saying the contractor who will demolish the building will bring in heavy sophisticated machinery and that there was no foul play whatsoever.
"Actually, the normal bidding process was done. They were five local bidders who took part including Thofu Investments. It is not true that there was no bidding," said Chitosi.
According to Chitosi, the K675 million came up because some of the "demolishing equipment is not available locally."
He said the house being in the central business district, they could not afford to disturb their neighbours by blocking them with wreckage.
"That is why we are bringing in a lot of equipment, most of which is not available in Malawi. We want the job to be done in a professional manner without the highway being closed nor disturbing our neighbours," said Chitosi.
Escom board chairperson Thom Mpinganjira also justified the cost, saying the exercise will require the contractor, Irrigwater and Mining Equipment, ferrying in equipment from South Africa. Besides, he said there was no local expertise to demolish the building which was destroyed by fire in October 2013.
He said: "The building will be demolished without affecting any structure and utilities."
However, engineers and other Malawians on social media say the K675 million is too much for demolition of a building.
They suspect Escom has corruptly awarded the contract to Irrigwater and Mining Equipment, an allegation Escom is disputing.
Writing on his Facebook page, academic and analyst Henry Chingaipe observed that the contracted amount was on the higher side for the exercise.
According to published reports, despite the efforts to demolish the building, Escom was yet to submit to Blantyre City Council (BCC) plans for the building to replace the gutted house, BCC chief executive officer Alfred Chanza said.