By Kondwani Mhone
Alice Longone, a woman known for always smiling in Nkhotakota District, remembers vividly that, in the recent past, there was one day a month when she would be walking while watching over her shoulders.
“This used to happen whenever I, as a beneficiary of Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP), would get my allocation in cash.
“That time, everyone in the village used to know that I had some cash and this was putting me and the money at risk,” she said.
That is no longer the case, though, after the authorities adopted the e-payment mode of transfering money from the government to beneficiaries of the programme.
“A lot has changed since I got registered under the programme and I am able to take care of myself and afford basic necessities,” Longone said.
According to Nkhotakota District Council (NDC) officials, the adoption of e-payment system in the implementation of SCTP is helping beneficiaries use the money for the intended purpose, as they are unlikely to fall prey to criminals.
NDC Monitoring and Evaluation Officer John Manda said migrating from the manual system of giving beneficiaries cash to e-payment had also reduced costs of delivery.
“E-payment makes things easy. Previously, we had to take cash to clusters and, in the process, we had to ensure that there was security.
“Now beneficiaries will be getting funds directly into their phones through mobile money transfer services such as Mpamba and Airtel Money. They can cash out at a time of their choice and also save, if they want to, by only withdrawing the amount that is needed at that particular time,” Manda said.
There are over 7,600 targeted beneficiaries in 72 clusters in the lakeshore district.
Manda said beneficiaries that do not have access to mobile phones are now getting a loan of a mobile handset valued at K12,800, which TNM is providing to them.
Money is deducted directly from beneficiaries’ cash transfer allocations over a period of six months.
TNM Regional Distribution Manager for the North, Lengster Nyanjagha, said there was transparency in how deductions for phone loans were being made.
“Deductions are done on monthly basis and the government knows everything that is happening on the issue of deductions, which are completed within six months. In the first month, we will deduct K2,800 and then K2,000 in the remaining months,” Nyanjagha said.
Longone, who is from Tandwe 2 Village in Nkhotakota District, agreed.
SCTP is spearheaded by the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare whose responsible minister is Patricia Kaliati.
Kaliati has been lauding the positive effects of the programme on Malawi’s development.
“Through the programme, the government is reaching out to those who would, otherwise, not have anywhere to go when it comes to finding daily needs,” she said.
Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ clearly underscores the importance of maintaining some level of coerciveness for everyone to achieve the needs for safety, belongingness and love, which are crucial for positive living.
In Machinga District, for example, 13,515 households are receiving cash transfers.
One of the beneficiaries, Margret Mailosi from Traditional Authority Liwonde, said she had managed to address some of the problems she used to face.
“At first, I used to struggle even to have a proper meal on a day. This is no longer the case after I was enlisted as one of the beneficiaries of the Social Cash Transfer Programme,” she said.
She has, among other things, bought livestock and is able to have three proper meals a day.
“The initiative has gone a long way in cushioning households from the effects of hunger. Following floods that hit some parts of the country due to tropical storms Ana and Gombe, households are at risk of suffering from hunger.
“However, due to initiatives such as social cash transfer, some of us are able to make ends meet as our resilience to disasters has been built,” Mailosi said.
Machinga District Commissioner Rosemary Nawasha concurs.
“When recipients of cash transfers use the money for purchasing food items and other basic necessities, they improve their living standards and address challenges such as those of hunger. In other words, they become less vulnerable to problems that arise out of monetary needs,” she said.
She said, for example, that 13,1651 vulnerable households that were said to be at risk of having hunger episodes had increased their chances of survival by getting K36,000 bailout for the months of January and February
‘My appeal is that they should be using the money for the intended purpose, which is buying food and other essentials. It is always sad when we see beneficiaries of life-uplifting programmes misusing resources they receive,’ Nawasha said.
She further said the programme was a success in the district as they did not receive a report that a tambala meant for the initiative had gone missing or had been abused by council officials.
‘The major challenge we faced was poor road network, where some roads were submerged in water and, as such, became impassable. In such circumstances, our officers were forced to work and this delayed the completion of the exercise,’ Nawasha said.
A Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee report indicated that 18,124 households in Machinga were likely to be affected by hunger and were in need of financial support.
Over 13,000 affected families in the district are benefitting from the social cash transfer programme while others are given other forms of aid.
President Lazarus Chakwera recently indicated that initiatives such as SCTP would continue as he has the welfare of the poor, including those in rural areas, at heart.
He said, through such programmes, his administration would be empowering the citizenry, thereby cutting some of the lines that feed into the vicious circle of poverty.
It can, therefore, be said that SCTP has set in motion an economic revolution whose waves of change are sweeping poverty off its feet.