Simbi Phiri at the centre of controversy

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Malawian billionaire Simbi Phiri is at the centre of another controversy connected to $500 million (K350 billion) Malawi water scheme, an investigation has established.

What has raised eyebrows is the discovery that Simbi Phiri’s companies, Khato Civils and South Zambezi, which have been given the contract for a scheme to pump water from Lake Malawi to the capital Lilongwe will also assess the “feasibility” of the project.

Simbi Phiri

Simbi Phiri at the heart of the controversy.

The chief executive of the Lilongwe Water Board, Engineer Alfonso Chikuni, confirmed to amaBhungane, an investigative publication based in South Africa that Simbi Phiri had been “identified” and would carry out feasibility studies on the Lilongwe-Salima scheme – a move seen as a clear conflict of interest.

“The approach has drawn fire, with critics arguing that it is unusual and involves an inherent conflict because the would-be contractor has an interest in glossing over pitfalls and overstating the feasibility of the work” reported the publication.

A well-informed source who has analysed the contract, but asked to remain anonymous, told amaBhungane the design for the project is unusual and incorporates “a built-in conflict of interest”.

“Normally, the pre-feasibility and feasibility studies, and the detailed designs, are done by independent consultants through a tender, while construction is undertaken by the contractor supervised by the consultants who did the designs. “Because the contractor is always keen to have the project built to make money, he can glorify the feasibility to win approvals for construction. The two should be separated.”

The City Press reported last year that Khato Civils was paid R170-million for the emergency refurbishment of Giyani’s water and waste water plants. However, it was discovered that, 18 months later, “there was still little water to be had in Giyani’s pipes”, raising further questions into the capacity of Phiri to see the Malawi water project to a complete, long lasting success.

Phiri also confessed that Giyani was still having water problems despite his project.

Phiri recently made headlines after being found with $7.8-million stash of cash that he had under-declared while crossing the border from South Africa to Botswana. The money was provisionally seized as possible evidence of money-laundering, but was returned to him after he approached the Gaborone High Court.

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