People in the central Malawi district of Nkhotakota are protesting government’s decision to remove materials from the Bailey bridge in the district and replace them with timber.

The development comes barely few weeks after government attracted similar protests in Dowa, another district in central Malawi, where 13 beds were transferred from Mponela Rural Hospital to Mzimba where campaign for parliamentary by-elections has been running.

In an interview on Tuesday, Traditional Authority Mwansambo, in whose area the bridge is, said his subjects are protesting the transfer of steel materials from the bridge on Livulezi River to Lifyozi Bridge on the Salima to Nkhotakota M5 Road.

“On Tuesday last week, Nkhotakota district commissioner [Charles Thombozi] told me that Roads Authority [RA] has arranged to remove steel materials from the bridge on Livulezi River and replace them with timber,” said T/A Mwansambo.

The chief said his subjects have asked government to buy new steel construction materials for the bridge it wants to fix on M5 Road.

“I met my area development committee [ADC] today [last Tuesday] over this matter. The bridge is in the area with a population of 20 000.

“Removing the bridge will also frustrate achievement of safe motherhood goals because pregnant mothers will be struggling to cross the river to go to Malowa Health Centre,” said the chief.

He said his subjects have mobilised Gule Wamkulu to guard against efforts to remove any materials from the bridge.

Thombozi on Wednesday said he had not yet received any complaint from the villagers on government’s decision to transfer steel materials from Livulezi Bridge.

Justifications

RA public relations officer Portia Kajanga on Thursday said: “It is indeed true that Roads Authority wrote Nkhotakota District Council informing them of its intention to swap the two bridges due to the following reasons:

“It costs Roads Authority over K3 million [about $10 000] every month to replace the timber planks on Lifyozi Bridge on M5 Road due to heavy traffic that uses the road while if the same bridge was placed over Livulezi River on T 341, replacement of timber planks would only be done once in a year due to the very low levels of motorised traffic,” said Kajanga.

She said, currently, it is not possible for government to buy new steel materials for the bridge on Lifyozi River due to financial constraints.

“It is very important to note that the new bridge that would be placed on Livulezi River would not be a wooden bridge. The whole bridge will be a steel bridge except the deck [the surface where vehicles ride] which will have timber planks.

“The cost of swapping both bridges is around K10 million [about $33 333]. It would, however, cost Malawi Government over K300 million [about $1 million] just to replace one bridge with a concrete-decked bridge,” said Kajanga.

In an interview on Saturday, Minister of Energy and Mining Dr. Cassim Chilumpha, who is also Member of Parliament for Nkhotakota South, said he is aware of the impending bridge materials transfer.

He, however, said much as the bridge on M5 Road needs to be fixed permanently, it is not a better option to transfer steel materials from another bridge.

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