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Giving rural dwellers development cake piece

Parliament

Sosten Gwengwe

By Grecium Gama:

There is nothing special about the road to Khongoloni Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Jenala, in Phalombe District; bumpy, muddy and narrow, it disenfranchises those that want to turn the area into a beehive of socio-economic activity.

“This road is the mark of disservice we have been subjected to since independence. While policymakers realise the importance of roads, they seem to have the road that leads to our village at the back of their minds,” said 32-year-old Samson Saidi, who has recently returned from South Africa.

He says there are marked parallels between roads in Malawi and those in the Rainbow Nation, as South Africa is also known.

“In other countries, policymakers ensure that the basic necessities in life are in abundant supply; these include potable water, quality education, healthcare and agricultural infrastructure as well as roads.

“Not in Malawi, where every important thing is regarded as an after-thought. We cannot progress like this. If the government, be it the Central Government of Local Government, cannot give people everything, at least a road should be there to open areas to other parts of the world,” he said.

No wonder, piles of dust and improvised roads that feed into the road to his home village do not impress him.

John Luka, a tomato farmer from Khongoloni Village, also in T/A Jenala, is equally baffled.

He said, for far too long, people in the area have not reaped the fruits of national development even though the country has a plethora of micro and macro-level development initiatives. These include Constituency Development Fund (CDF).

Just last month, Malawi Local Government Association (Malga) faulted the government for touting CDF as a catalyst for meaningful development in rural areas.

According to the 2022-23 National Budget Statement which Finance Minister Sosten Gwengwe presented to Parliament two weeks ago, the CDF allocation per constituency has been increased from K40 million to K100 million per annum.

“In line with Section 13, read together with Section 30 of the Constitution, this budget will start addressing the [problem of] development inequality the rural masses have suffered for so long. This budget will start introducing reforms to the administration of the Constituency Development Fund,” Gwengwe said.

He indicated, for instance, that, moving forward, CDF would be classified as development part II and not as Other Recurrent Expenditure as has been the case previously.

Gwengwe also indicated that the fund would now be used productively, with every lawmaker being required to show flagship projects implemented in a constituency.

“A budget must be inclusive, a budget must be pro-poor and a budget must be developmental. It is in this vein that the Constituency Development Fund, as a direct injection to rural projects and as a complementary part of the 100 million [United States] Dollars rural Governance to Enable Service Delivery (Gesd) programme, has been revised to K100 million per constituency.

“A team from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, National Local Government Finance Committee, and Ministry of Local Government are working on quality and standardisation of the projects such that structures to be built under CDF will have the same design in all constituencies. One should be able to identify a CDF classroom block or a CDF health centre facility because they will look the same across the country,” Gwengwe said.

Gesd is a five-year project which is being financed by the World Bank to strengthen councils’ institutional performance, responsiveness to citizens and management of resources.

However, Malga Executive Director Hardrod Mkandawire wants accountability mechanisms to be strengthened for CDF to foster meaningful development in constituencies.

“Contrary to what the government wants Malawians to erroneously believe, it is clear from Auditor General’s audit reports into accounts of local authorities, including the recent one, that CDF is littered with abuse, fraud projects quality challenges and [the case of] projects not [being] aligned to district development and urban development plans [and these misdeeds are] perpetrated by members of Parliament using their political muscles.

“On the other hand, the District Development Fund (DDF) and Infrastructure Development Fund (IDF) have been models of inclusive and transparent local development and, no wonder, the World Bank and other bilateral and multilateral development partners have adopted the DDF/ IDF model as a means of funding local development,” Mkandawire said.

These sentiments are a true reflection of Luka’s impression of development projects being implemented in rural areas.

However, his perception has changed now, following a number of projects being implemented in Phalombe District.

“There are a number of road, healthcare and market infrastructure projects being implemented in our area,” he said.

Phalombe District Commissioner Rodrick Mateauma said the projects in question are being implemented under the Gesd initiative.

Speaking after touring project sites, he said he was impressed with progress made so far.

“Funds our council realised from the given grant are being used for construction of Mauzi Health Centre, upgrading of Khongoloni-Maliro and Chiringa -Nsukasanje gravel roads as well as construction of a youth centre, among other things.

“After the completion of these projects, people here will be getting quality services. For instance, the health facility will be the first one in a vast area where people have been covering over 16 kilometres to get medical help at the nearest facility. Similarly, people from Traditional Authority Jenala were failing to travel to Maliro Market, where they sell their farm produce, because of a muddy road that is being gravelled,” Mateauma said.

One of the long-awaited infrastructures is a youth centre at Mkhumba.

Mkhumba Youth Network Chairperson Moses Kathumba said, now that construction is at an advanced stage, youths in the area would be exposed to life-saving activities.

“For over eight years, youths here have been lobbying policymakers to construct the K30 million facility but nothing worked as the two funding windows, Constituency Development Fund and District Development Fund, could not finance the project. We are now happy,” he said.

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