Over 45 students dropped out of school in 2020 alone in Loti Chisambi, Zebera and Mtuzuzu Villages in Traditional Authority (T/A) M’mbelwa in Mzimba District.
The majority of the dropouts were girls who were in community day secondary schools spread across Mzimba South West Constituency.
“Most of them are coming from poor families. Their parents can’t afford tuition fees for their children,” Village Head Loti Chisambi says.
Lack of school fees remains a perennial problem among learners who come from underprivileged households across the country. This has led to the deepening of social and economic inequalities among Malawians.
The government, in an effort to address the inequalities, introduced the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) Bursary Scheme to create equal opportunities and access to secondary school education for the poor learners.
Currently at K4 million, or 10 percent of the total allocation to the CDF, the scheme could support up to 154 students per year at K13, 000 per term each.
However, an assessment by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi established that the success of the scheme, or lack of it, remains at the mercy of members of Parliament (MPs).
The assessment was conducted in June 2021 in selected districts of Rumphi, Karonga, Ntchisi, Mangochi, Dowa, Zomba and Mwanza.
CCJP Project Officer Tuntufye Simwimba disclosed that most of the MPs are still misusing and delaying implementation of the school bursary scheme.
Simwimba further stated that lawmakers are deliberately flouting procedures meant to ensure transparency and accountability, and that only deserving students benefit from the scheme.
He pointed out, among other things, that, while district social welfare officers (DSWOs) and district education managers, and community structures were supposed to identify beneficiaries, with the role of MPs being to sign payment cheques to the respective schools, some legislators are single-handedly identifying the beneficiaries and imposing them on the councils.
In other instances, such as Mzimba West Constituency, the fund has been diverted to other projects, away from boosting retention of poor students in secondary schools.
Billy Kaunda, MP for the area, confirmed channelling the resources to youth skills development programmes.
He said the decision was made in full agreement with Senior Chiefs Mtwalo and Mpherembe and Technical Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority after consultations with the area development committees (ADCs).
“You will also appreciate that the Teveta training is equally empowering to people of my constituency who, after being empowered with skills, will be able to generate money for their families including paying school fees for their family members. If the ADCs have names of secondary school students who need assistance, we can accommodate them as long as the amount doesn’t go beyond the authorised amount of K4 million,” Kaunda said.
“There is only one girl at Euthini Secondary School who I personally pay school fees for, but, this financial year, we should be able to accommodate more students and councillors will be meeting the ADCs on the same to come up with the criteria for identifying students and their names as beneficiaries,” he added.
In Mzimba South West Constituency, none of the needy students has benefitted from the scheme despite the availability of funds.
M’mbelwa ADC Chairperson Nathan Nyirenda confirmed the development in an interview on Sunday.
Nyirenda said this prompted his committee to summon their legislators – Raymond Chatima Nkhata of Mzimba South West and his Mzimba Solola counterpart—Jacob Hara – to a meeting, which took place at Edingeni headquarters on August 5 2021.
The committee demanded answers to why there has been secrecy on the implementation of the scheme.
“Their answers were not convincing. We have since demanded that they write reports on the development projects they have implemented since their election in 2019,” Nyirenda said.
Both Nkhata and Hara confirmed being summoned to Edingeni headquarters, where they were quizzed about on their involvement in the implementation of the scheme.
“I was there and I responded in person. I think the best is that you ask the ADC secretary who was taking minutes. You may come to me for confirmation,” Nkhata said.
Village Head Loti Chisambi said it is unfortunate that poor students continue to be deprived of their right to education because of selfishness and greed on the part the lawmakers.
The traditional leader described the development as ‘injustice’ to the electorate.
CCJP National Coordinator Boniface Chibwana hailed the government for hatching the scheme to help the underprivileged.
Chibwana said it is, therefore, unfortunate that local governance structures like ADCs and village development committees are not consulted in the selection process of the bright students who deserve the resources.
“We should at all times engage all people in decisions-making processes for us to have tangible and home-grown solutions to challenges that affect communities,” he said.