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Power of economic participatory development

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Travels to Njema in Mulanje will prove to you three things: economic activities, school and bridges construction projects with funds from Local Development (LDF) and Constituency Development Funds (CDF).

These projects have brought about economic transformation in that people have access to markets for their commodities and also improved roads for business operations, not forgetting nice classes for learners.

Some legislators, previously, used such funds to advance their political agenda, as they capitalised on the ineffectiveness of the now vibrant members of the Area Development Committees (ADCs).

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Surveys show that Njema, Njai 1 and Maveya have economic projects that leave a mark from such a tea and pineapple-growing district.

Previously, stories of unfinished projects have been told, causing arguments between communities and those in political positions.

In fact, legal battles of abuse of LDF and CDF remain unresolved in some districts, a development that was talk of the nation during the last sitting of Parliament. Already, some parliamentarians are set to answer suspected charges of abuse of LDF or CDF.

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“To this day, the area has well constructed markets, school blocks and bridges due to project proposals communities suggested through ADCs,” Gift Mwale, one of the ADC members from Dowa said during one of the cross learning workshops.

Mwale said they travelled to Mulanje to learn how their counterparts are implementing such projects in line with various skills and mobilisation activities different organisations put forward.

“We used simple materials at a cost that if it were politicians doing these projects, we could have been robbed. We currently, as ADCs plan and ask for funds from the district commissioners,” Mwale added.

Villagers in Njema have since commended what the Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) has taught them in budget accountability for governance since three years ago.

They insist that participatory economic development activities are sustainable and need to take place in various areas in a bid to spur economic growth.

Having learnt bitter lessons as to how some legislators abused CDF and LDF for political reasons, they feel time has come for communities to lobby development with such funds without political interference.

The ADCs in Mulanje, Zomba and Dowa districts have developed their areas through Mejn programme known as Economic Literacy and Budget Accountability for Governance (Elbag).

ADCs comprise local leaders, political party representatives, faith community and school representatives, among others.

Differences between communities and legislators over utilisation of LDF and CDF forced Mejn—with funds from the European Union (EU) and Trocaire—to start a project to sensitise ADCs to economic literacy and budget accountability.

More workshops took place with a clear focus on ADCs from Mulanje, Zomba and Dowa districts to equip them with skills as to how they can lobby economic projects and make communities account for them.

According to Zomba-based youth activist, Mphatso Zidana, Malawi’s social economic activities could bear fruits if ADCs are encouraged to be part of the development agenda at district level.

His notion is that ADCs have diverse knowledge with regards to what social economic development projects are needed in their respective areas and how to implement them.

“With LDF and CDF, ADCs have a role to lobby viable economic projects that will uplift their areas,” Zidana said, adding development plans should come the public and not central government.

Local leaders in Chisi, Zomba have in random interviews alluded to the fact that politicians not longer dictate social economic development projects, but rather consult ADCs first.

“As you can see, this meeting held by Mejn has brought communities together to plan and do budget tracking of projects we have implemented, so no politician can dictate,” some of the leaders said.

Mejn has since finalised follow up meetings on how communities, ward councillors and legislators should collaborate with expiry of the project.

In an interview, Mejn Executive Director, Dalitso Kabalasa, touted the project as being a success considering improved accountability levels in the use of LDF and CDF at the ADC level unlike before.

“We hope we have achieved something because issues of economic literacy and budget accountability for governance were a challenge.

“Due to lack of enough funds that is why we only chose the three districts,” he said.

He said projects that have been implemented in the last three years are a sign that ADCs have been empowered with governance skills.

Mejn is also implementing programmes such as trade justice, collaboration and networking, budget participation initiative and policy research analysis and advocacy.

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