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Enhancing local government accountability

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For three consecutive years, people of Group Village Head (GVH) Pemba in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kadewere in Chiradzulu had been working tirelessly, moulding bricks to construct an under-five clinic in the area.

To their disappointment, the two structures they erected collapsed in a space of two years due to lack of expertise among the communities in so far as construction is concerned.

But due to challenges the nine villages under GVH Pemba had been facing on under-five health services, the villagers continued moulding brings until late last year when what could be their first-ever under-five clinic took shape.

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They christened the facility Khonjiwe Village Under-five Clinics.

Though not roofed, the structure brought hope to the communities of improvement in under-five health service delivery system within the villages.

“It was to our relief when we heard that government after seeing how committed we were had provided funds to be used for roofing, floor and other final touches to the facility,” GVH Pemba said.

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Trouble, however, began when District Development Funds (DDF) hit the contractor’s pockets.

According to GVH Pemba, despite all their efforts, the villagers were not given prior notice by the district council of the new contractor and were surprised to wake up one morning and found that roofing hard started.

“As a community in dire need of a health facility, we were just observing the developments at the facility until we noticed that the contractor had purchased 15 feet iron sheets instead of 16 feet as per our needs,” said Pemba, adding: “We also noticed that instead of purchasing new door frames, the contractor was using old ones which are alleged to have been removed from Madalitso Health Centre’s toilets.”

Upon confrontation by the village clinic committee, the contractor became defensive, saying the K2.5 million he was given by government had already been exhausted after roofing the facility.

“He (the contractor) insulted our chief when we confronted him on the same, saying he had used all the K2.5 million meant for the job but we were later surprised to see that after our probing, he had proceeded to buy one foot pieces of iron sheets to compensate for the space left by the 15 feet he had used for roofing but we stopped him and halted the project,” said Febie Masilika, Chairperson for the Village Clinic Committee.

We visited the facility and it remains unfinished up to now despite government investing the said amount and the community’s energy into it.

According to Masilika, Health Surveillance Assistants from surrounding health centres still use the facility to conduct under-five clinics in the area.

But this is neither the first nor the last development project to stall in the district.

At Thumbwe, for example, a K10 million DDF-sponsored school block project stalled as communities were not satisfied with the way the block was being constructed.

Area on, people from GVH Kumitete sub-Traditional Authority Onga in the district had stopped construction of a two-classroom school block at PIM Primary School due to poor workmanship by the contractor.

This is despite the school facing a number of challenges ranging from shortage of classrooms with a majority of pupils learning under trees.

Both the area’s Social Accountability Committee’s (Sacs) Vice-Chairperson Milton Sukali and ward councillor Amon Sam confirmed the development.

While the people there are complaining of lack of learning facilities, their counterparts at Mwanje Ward in T/A Kadewere have been complaining of poor works at Nankhundi Bridge.

According to the area’s Sac, the bridge which was so poorly constructed that vehicles cannot pass cost government about K3.6 million.

“The way it was constructed it will not last the rainy season this year. We just saw the contractor who is not from this area start working on the bridge and, as a result, after construction, he was nowhere to account for the poor work he had done to our chiefs,” said Austin Manyawa, Chairperson for the committee.

He said the bridge in question is important to the people in the area as it connects the seven villages to Nasulu Admarc, Ndunde Market and primary school.

These are but a few examples of how low involvement of local masses in developmental initiatives being conducted in their own areas is derailing development at local level.

Local development organs are also being undermined in the process.

Though most people through the Area Development Committees and Sacs say there is an improvement in the way local councils are using some Local Development Funds (LDF), they are quick to point out that tracking the DDF remains a big challenge.

This is coming at a time when various stakeholders have been calling for the strengthening of local councils as one way of effectively implementing decentralisation.

And the Centre for Alternatives for Victimised Women and Children (Cavwoc) with funding from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has been training the Social Accountability Clubs in Chiradzulu to track and follow up on how development funds such as LDF, Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and DDF are being used by district councils.

Cavwoc Field Officer for Chiradzulu John Sumani said though Sacs have been facing a number of challenges in the course of their work, remarkable progress has been made so far.

According to Sumani, strengthening Sacs is critical if local councils are to be effective.

“In the recent past, Sacs were finding it difficult to follow up local council’s expenditure due to various reasons but those challenges have been rectified through interface meetings with local council officials,” he said.

Stakeholders have been calling on the government to increase its budgetary allocation to local councils’ development budget.

At K3 billion this financial year, Malawi’s allocation towards local councils’ development budget falls short of the five percent of the total national budget as per the Southern African Development Community recommendations.

Malawi Economic Justice Network Blantyre Chapter’s Chairperson Andrew Mwantani said recently that increasing budgetary allocations towards local council’s development budget remains crucial to decentralisation.

But while acknowledging that the budget to the local councils is really insufficient, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kondwani Nankhumwa said there is need to strengthen the local councils’ capacity first.

“The issue of capacity remains critical, for example, most people in our councils are holding posts in acting capacity and then we have those issues of increased mismanagement of resources at local level with council officials failing to liquidate the money, these are some of the issues we need to look into,” he said.

It is believed that building the capacity of Sacs could go a long way in increasing the capacity and efficiency in local councils.

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