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K4 billion hospitals’ project in limbo

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Hadrod Mkandawire

A few days before the 2021-22 financial year comes to an end, Minister of Health Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda has confirmed that implementation of Health Facilities Project has failed to take off as planned.

The initiative targeted to rehabilitate public health facilities, thereby helping the Central Government meet its goal of improving access to healthcare services.

District councils were earmarked as implementers of the project.

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Following its failure to take off, implementation of the project has been differed to the 2022- 23 fiscal year, meaning that service seekers have to wait a bit longer for challenges they face in accessing healthcare services in public facilities to be addressed.

On December 22 2021, the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) wrote a circular to all district commissioners (DCs), asking them to identify projects that would be implemented.

NLGFC further asked the DCs to submit plans to the committee as well as Ministry of Health (MoH) officials by January 7 2022.

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Signed by the committee’s acting executive director Kondwani Santhe, who was then director of finance, the circular indicated that councils had up to March 31 2022 to implement the projects, which were pegged at K4 billion.

However, Kandodo Chiponda acknowledged that the project had not taken off.

She was quick to say, after getting assurances from the Ministry of Finance on availability of funds in the next financial year, her ministry was working on issues that would ensure that the project is characterised by efficiency, transparency and accountability.

“That project was being done under the Ministry of Local Government because of decentralisation. The budget line did not come under the MoH [Ministry of Health].

“However, we have assurances from the Minister of Finance [Sosten Gwengwe] that the money will still be provided for. It is also in our interest to have proper maintenance of our hospitals…,” Kandodo Chiponda said.

Speaking during a post-budget fiscal devolution dialogue meeting with Malawi Local Government Association (Malga) officials in Salima recently, Parliamentary Cluster on Social and Community Affairs and Local Authorities and Rural Development co-Chairperson Horace Chipuwa said issues the health minister referred to were project guidelines.

“We, as a committee, engaged the government through ministries on the matter and we were told that it was hard to implement [the project] without guidelines, which were formulated late.

“Now that the guidelines are ready, the councils will have an opportunity to work on the projects in the next financial year,” he said.

Chipuwa disclosed that the K4 billion allocation remained with the NLGFC.

In reaction, Malga Executive Director Hadrod Mkandawire said the excuse by the government on why it had withheld the funds did not hold water.

“Why has it taken the government all this long to develop the guidelines? Why did the government issue a circular that the funds would be disbursed within the current financial year when the guidelines were not available? We are of the view that the government is not sincere with itself. This is a clear example of slow fiscal devolution in Malawi,” Mkandawire said.

This comes barely a month after district councils reported that they had not yet received feedback from the Ministry and NLGFC on plans and budgets they duly submitted.

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