White elephants derail Mwanza, Neno development agenda
Sub-Traditional Authority Govati of Mwanza does not remember the last time he saw a wild elephant in the district. Yet, every time he steps out of his house, another type of elephant awaits him: The white one!
“We have a lot of white elephants in Mwanza. From Thambani, which falls in my area, and other faraway places, we simply have so many of these. Politics seems to have perpetuated the trend,” Govati says.
Of course, he is referring to uncompleted projects, and not necessarily elephants with ‘white’ skin. After all, according to www.marylandzoo.org, elephants only have “gray” and “wrinkled” skin. The website adds that elephants are known as pachyderms, along with hippos and rhinos, a name derived from the Latin words for “thick” and “skin” (‘derm’) to literally mean “thick-skin”.
To strengthen his case, Govati cites uncompleted houses marked for teachers and healthcare service delivery workers.
“We have a situation at Thambani (Trading Centre) where two houses meant for health workers have remained uncompleted for years. Again, at Kalanga Primary School, a teacher’s house built through the efforts of the Area Development Committee (ADC) has not reached window level some three, four years after the project begun,” Govati says.
Govati says other abandoned projects include a gravity water project that has remained a pipedream even after the commencement of ground work.
Unfortunately, Govati’s subjects are not the only ones affected as Inkosi Kanduku can testify of having his fair share of white elephants.
Kanduku says one of the hardest hit sectors is education, where learners have to cover a distance of between five and 10 kilometres to get to the nearest learning facility because the schools in their area do not meet minimum standards.
“For example, we have the case of Futsa Community Day Secondary School. Construction of a school block, courtesy of the European Union, started and completed in 2009 but, up to now, nobody knows when the school will open its doors to our children because there is no tangible progress. In fact, some people are using the school block as a hall,” Kanduku says.
But the Ngoni chief puts his foot down on suggestions that education officials should open the school to learners, saying it is better for community members to hold their breaths until the facility meets minimum standards other than expose their children to a deplorable learning environment.
However, the decision to keep the block closed to learners has come at a cost as learners from neighbouring areas such as Tulonkhondo have to cover a distance of more than eight kilometres to access education facilities at Thawale Community Day Secondary School in the district. However, the forum for District stakeholders adopted the proposal by Councilors Moses Bingalasi Walota and Lloyd Gosho and T/A Govati’s proposals to open the school for forms 1 and 2 while communities contribute sand and mould bricks for the remaining blocks and teachers’ houses. The two Mwanza West Councillors further pledged to present the proposal to their MP Hon. Davis Katsonga and that they facilitate the use of the Constituency Development Fund to complete the school block besides other sources of funds facilitated by the District Council time to time.
Stitch in time
Fortunately for Mwanza residents, Dan Church Aid, with support from Tilitonse Fund, has come to their rescue, thanks to the ‘Collaborative Action in Strengthening Local Governance Project’ being implemented by the Association of Progressive Women (APW).
Concerned with increased cases of abandoned projects, APW invited community members to consultative forums and mobilisation meetings in a quest to shape community perspectives and understanding around key development issues between the month of February and March this year. These efforts culminated in a number of community dialogues taking place with various community leaders in following up the unfinished or stalled projects.
“Among other things, we discovered that there is lack of coordination at various levels of government, which suffocates patriotism and community ownership to project implementation. There is also little coordination between the Central Government and District Councils in drawing up development plans and annual budgets,” Grace Moyo, the project officer, says, adding:
“There are also inadequate resources for councils to help build capacity of the Village Development Committees (VDC) and ADCs, training of traditional leaders on their new roles in democratic governance, coupled with deficiency in policy analysis, advocacy and low education levels. Deficiencies in coordination between these levels of governance are clearly demonstrated in the manner in which communities handled all these stalled and unfinished projects.”
Moyo observes that citizen influence has been generally low with their inputs having only peripheral effects in effecting positive change.
Her sentiments are echoed by programme manager, Noel Msiska, who cites a case in Kanduku’s and Mlauli areas.
Msiska says community members, through the VDC, proposed the construction of a bridge over a drift at Mkwilira River in a bid to address mobility problems faced by the pupils and residents around Dzomodya, Mbirizi, Mtaya, Butao and Kumpakiza villages during the rainy season.
He said the proposal was accepted by the Neno District Council and construction materials started arriving at the project site after community members had contributed sand and stones. The Council, he said, recruited its own contractor without thorough consultations with the ADC and VDC and the project took off.
“However, the ADC members, who were providing oversight monitoring, observed that, out of 50 bags of cement meant for the project, only 15 were used in electing the foundation of the bridge. As a result, construction works stalled and the communities still suspect that the rest of the construction materials, particularly cement, were taken up by the contractor who just left the project at foundation stage and they can hardly locate him. They wonder that the council is not holding him accountable for the unfinished project,” says Msiska.
Apart from these projects, the other notable projects that have been unnecessarily delayed or stalled in Mwanza and Neno altogether include the Ziyaya Chidole School Project, Kunenekude Police Unit construction, the community ground construction project and Muwanga Okhota Schools Development initiative where community members proposed the construction of a modern school block; Chidokowe Primary School, a Standard 1 to 6 learning facility that has only one block; Golden Village clean water project; Chifunga Police Unit; respectively among others.
Msiska contends that challenges faced by Mwanza and Neno residents are not unique to the districts, raising concerns that failure to complete projects seems to be a nationwide malaise.
He suggests that the Malawi government should engage an expert team to conduct an assessment study on all uncompleted projects in Malawi and make recommendations on how government can recover costs from such projects. He adds that legislation and the funding mechanism systems of the Constituency Development Fund and the Local Development Fund should also be reviewed.
“There is also need to implement measures such as increasing access to information at district level, simplifying reports to give all residents the opportunity to offer scrutiny, promoting open bidding for contracts, using agreed monitoring tools and promoting equal presentation of local leaders at district level to bring about transparency and accountability at all levels of governance,” says Msiska.
He adds that there is need to build the capacity of village monitoring committees in project monitoring, budget tracking and governance for them to be able to demand satisfaction of development projects within their localities, as well as reviewing the Local Government Act and Decentralization Policy.
Mwanza District Commissioner, Gift Lapozo, says, under normal circumstances, councils act as engines of development by creating policies, mobilizing technical and financial resources in their bid to ensure that resources are well-utilised in advancing the development agenda.
Lapozo also says, under normal circumstances, public projects are not supposed to hit a snag on the basis that Members of Parliament (MP), or councilors, who initiated them have been voted out of office.
“Government is a growing concern: It doesn’t change; if anything, it’s the faces that change. So, if the government is a growing concern, why do development projects initiated by MPs stall once they are voted out of office and yet we say development derives from the people? It’s like kugwiritsa anthu ntchito yopanda malipiro (letting people toil in vain),” laments Lapozo.
Lapozo expresses concern that some stalled projects started as way back as 2010.
“These development projects just need funding. Piecemeal development approaches are catalysts for poverty, illiteracy. Let’s find out and discuss the way forward so that the newly-elected ward councilors can work smoothly. It’s time to share, to rectify problems and complete all stalled projects,” Lapozo says.