The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) has managed to pay K21 million to a Kenyan company which cannot be traced to do the work it was contracted to do, Malawi News learnt.
The company was supposed to rehabilitate or replace a lift for the air traffic control centre at Kamuzu International Airport.
The lift stopped functioning almost 10 years ago and airport traffic controllers threatened to stage a strike last year demanding rehabilitation or replacement of the equipment.
They complained that climbing the steps up and down over a distance of about 50 metres was hectic.
Airplanes arriving, departing, or airport buses and vehicles and airport lights, among others, are controlled from the nerve centre.
Communication between pilots and other users of the airport and the control centre is at risk where a plane is landing or departing and a controller is late to get to the control centre.
In response to this situation, the government, through Civil Aviation paid the Kenyan company in full.
But it transpired that the company got liquidated and cannot be traced now.
Director of Civil Aviation Alfred Mtilatila confirmed on Wednesday that government paid the company in full but that the firm cannot be found.
He could not give the name of the company saying he needed time to check.
“Seeing the plight of our employees and that the landlord was not doing anything about the lift, we decided to do it. It is true there was a contract and money was indeed paid in full. After payment, there was a team following up and indeed we have not heard from the contractor,” he said.
“Government is trying to trace the contractor. We have engaged foreign office in Kenya to trace the company. There is money to be recovered.”
Treasury questioned whether DCA had appropriate guarantees for the project.
“For any public procurement there is need to have appropriate guarantees in place so that in the event that the contractor
does not deliver as promised you can cash the performance bond. I hope the civil aviation had these safeguards in place,” said Treasury Spokesperson Nations Msowoya.
An inside source at aviation said the way the transaction with the so called Kenyan company was done raised a lot of suspicion.
“There was no transparency,” said the source.
He questioned: “Where is the money? Which people did our bosses deal with? It is a shame to the department to lose money just like that. The biggest losers are the traffic controllers who have to climb to get to the control centre on daily basis and it is not easy.”
According to the source, all equipment for communicating with pilots is available.
“When the plane is on the ground or vehicles on the airport and air side lights –all these are controlled from the control centre and a controller has to be there in time. One of our friends [name withheld] can no longer climb to the control centre and the danger is that he may lose his license as air traffic controller.
“The lift stopped functioning some 10 years ago and we have been pressing for a new lift because it is not on to climb a distance of about 50 metres four times or more a day. Last year we had organised a strike but it was aborted because we were assured that government had finished the last payment for the contract to work on the lift,” the source added.