Dec 13, 2017 Last Updated 12:40 PM, Dec 13, 2017
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Malawi’s President, Peter Mutharika has been convinced by the Electricity Generating and supplying Companies EGENCO and ESCOM that the current power outages will be dealt with shortly.

This transpired earlier on Wednesday, when President Mutharika paid a surprise visit to ESCOM’s head offices in the commercial capital, Blantyre.

Business along the Victoria Avenue was brought to a standstill by the Malawi leader’s arrival.

According to managers of the two companies, measures are being implemented to rectify the problem, which the public and captains of industry have repeatedly expressed worry and anger over the persistent electricity blackouts.

The long hours without electricity, are affecting productivity in the manufacturing sector, and there continuous calls for the government to immediately identify solutions to the current challenges.

Though EGENCO has expressed interest in venturing into solar power, the plans are yet to be materialised.

Speaking after holding talks with EGENCO and ESCOM management, President Mutharika acknowledged the negative impact power outages are having, saying the government is giving the matter the attention it deserves.

Meanwhile, ESCOM revealed that power outages will continue until December this year as they are working on purchasing diesel generators to improve the situation.

Board Chairperson for the Parastatal Perks Ligoya told Capital FM that diesel generators may also come with high electricity tariffs upon the completion of the exercise.

“We have already signed agreements for 70 megawatts of power which may take close to a year for Malawians to use them.

As for the generators, by December about 30 generators to arrive and this will ease the power cuts that the country is experiencing,” Ligoya said.

Almost every year, Malawi experiences power cuts which arise due to the drop in levels of water in Lake Malawi mainly due to climate changes.

The level in the lake in turn affects the levels in Shire River which is EGENCO’s main source of power generation.

Amid pressure from Malawians, the country’s electricity generating and supplying companies are promising to eradicate blackouts by early next year.

Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) and Electricity Generation Company (EGENCO) officials, made the remarks during a civil society and media tour of their power stations in the southern region.

The public and Civil Society Organisations have been piling pressure on ESCOM and the EGENCO to improve the electricity provisions in the country.

They have been questioning why there are continued blackouts despite the unbundling of ESCOM which meant to solve electricity challenges in the country.

The two bodies organised a tour to brief the CSOs and the Media on the current power situation.

Water levels in the Shire River which houses the country’s power stations have reduced, which according to the two parastatals, is affecting electricity generation and supply.

Tedzani power station for instance, is said to be producing less than 60 megawatts of electricity out of the required 92 megawatts due to the same factor.

The responsible authorities assure Malawians that all will be well by the start of January with or without rains in the country owing to the Diesel generators project which is expected to finish by December.

Patrick Kadewa who is the Acting Director of System and Market Operator for ESCOM says they will bring mechanisms that intend to save energy like the LED bulbs.

Representing the CSOs on the tour, National Coordinator for Forum for National Development indicated a reversal of the planned demonstrations against persistent blackouts.

Capital FM’s own observation during the tour revealed that, the government needs to take a step further to restore the depleted trees in communities around the areas to reduce siltation.

It was sad to see people walking freely with charcoal on their bicycles around Tedzani, Kapichira and other areas around the power stations.

Electricity is a key for social economic development of every country hence the need for it to be looked into with the urgency it deserves.

The Mozambican government has once again firmly rejected the demands from Malawi that the Zambezi and Shire rivers be used for commercial shipping.

Malawian officials have once again raised the question of using the Shire-Zambezi waterway for Malawian trade, protesting that the Mozambican authorities are “creating difficulties”.

At a Maputo press conference on Thursday, senior Transport Ministry official Jafar Ruby retorted that the difficulties are not of Mozambique’s making, but are inherent to the Malawian project which was “neither viable nor sustainable in the short, medium and long term”.

Mozambique had believed that the matter was definitively settled when a study carried out by an international consultancy company, Hydroplan, selected by the three countries potentially involved in the Shire-Zambezi project, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique, found it was not viable.

The three countries had signed a memorandum of understanding in April 2007, but after the Hydroplan study Mozambique notified the Malawian and Zambian governments that it was withdrawing from the Memorandum with effects as from June 2016.

The study had shown that the Shire-Zambezi waterway “is not commercially navigable in its natural state, and under these conditions, the general objective of the proposed project – the reduction of transport costs in terms of time and money – cannot be achieved”.

Using the river for Malawi’s trade would imply regular dredging and removal of plants, which would be extremely expensive.

The maximum amount of goods that could be moved along the two rivers would be 273,200 tonnes per year.

Dredging would cost 30 million US dollars a year and the removal of aquatic plants 50 million dollars a year. These figures, Raby said, show that “the project is not viable”.

Malawi had other, far cheaper and less time-consuming options – namely to use the Mozambican ports of Beira and Nacala, moving goods to and from the ports by rail or road.

“Transport by river would take between 10 and 12 days, compared with a day and a half from Lilongwe to Beira, and three and a half days from Blantyre to Nacala”, said Raby.

Mozambique has suggested other alternatives to Malawi.

Malawi is not currently using the Sena railway line to Beira – but it could do.

Relinking the Malawian rail system to the Sena line would involve rehabilitating 193 kilometres of track.

The river port of Nsanje, which Malawi built on the Shire, could be linked to the planned Mozambican port of Macuse, on the coast of Zambezia province (a distance of 476 kilometres), and existing roads could link Blantyre to the port of Quelimane (425 kilometres).

The Shire-Zambezi waterway project was conceived by the late Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Although it had not secured Mozambican approval, Mutharika’s government even went as far as building the port at Nsanje at a cost of twenty million US dollars.

In October 2010 it held an inauguration ceremony attended by VIPs including President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

The event was a huge embarrassment when the Mozambican authorities blocked fertiliser laden barges that were en route to Nsanje.

The whole scenario was bizarre as the Mozambican government had always been clear that its waterways can only be used after the correct steps have been taken, which include environment impact assessments.

At the time, the then president of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, explained that while he understood Malawi’s desire to use the two rivers for its trade, it could only happen after the viability and environmental studies.

Those studies have now been made and they show that the project is not viable.

The public is piling pressure on Parks and wildlife officials to spring into action, after a crocodile mauled to death a young man in Mangochi district.

President Mutharika has forged a new pact of cooperation with Malawi’s neighbouring countries, Mozambique and Zambia.

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