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Civil servants’ allowance demands frustrate co-ops

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By Deogratias Mmana 

The culture of allowances in the civil service is frustrating the growth of cooperatives as they are struggling to get trained and registered, The Sunday Times has learnt.

Without registration, a cooperative cannot be legally recognised and consequently cannot get loans.

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The cooperatives we spoke with said they are struggling to get trained and registered because they cannot raise the money for the allowances which government officials demand.

Dan Nthala, Executive Director for Foundation for Community and Capacity Development (FOCCAD), a local nongovernmental organisation supporting 25 farmer clubs in Nkhotakota, said five cooperatives in the district cannot be registered for two years now because they have been failing to raise K1.2 million which government officials demanded as subsistence and fuel allowances to train them.

The five cooperatives are Katengeza Producers and Marketing, Mpambadzi Cooperative, Mpamantha Cooperative, Tagwirizana Cooperative and Chia Cooperative.

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“When time for registration came, we contacted the responsible department in the ministry (of Industry). The challenge was that they told us that they would send a team of six people to train the cooperatives for five days. This meant paying them over K1.2 million for subsistence and fuel. We tried to engage them but they insisted on the allowances,” said Nthala. It is two years now. We cannot raise that amount. The department does not operate like a government structure. They have restrictive procedures which are killing efforts for people to employ themselves,” he added.

According to Nthala, a cooperative has a membership of about 30 people. This means that the government is denying 150 members the opportunity to run businesses.

Executive Director of Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD), Melton Luhanga, said they also provided food, accommodation and allowances to have some cooperatives in Nsanje trained and registered.

“At times we had to give refunds for fuel to enable these government officials to run our training,” said Luhanga, adding that one cooperative called Namalambo took three years to register.

Asked why his organisation had to pay allowances when it was not supposed to, Luhanga said: “But in a society where for you to legally register your cooperative you need these trainers, farmers remain helpless.”

Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Industry, Peter Simbani, has since condemned the demand for the allowances as a condition for his ministry officials to train and register cooperatives.

“We do not have a policy that requires cooperatives to pay allowances to our officers for the training they conduct. In any case, the Ministry budgets for such activities. It is, therefore, illegal for anybody to be claiming allowances for a training programme that the Ministry conducts,” said Simbani.

Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (Csat) and Church and Society of the Livingstonia Synod have also condemned the behaviour of the officers. They have asked the authorities to investigate the matter.

Executive Director for Church and Society of the Livingstonia Synod, Moses Mkandawire, said his organisation would institute an investigation into the matter.

“Cooperatives play a critical role in ensuring economic growth and development. Government must investigate the allegations and culprits must be brought to book. There is no way the government service can be charged like that when staff members are already receiving allowances. These are enemies of development,” said Mkandawire.

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