Africa-Press – Malawi. Annually, dozens of underprivileged students are dropping out of school because of lack of fees and other support. Majority of the dropouts are girls who were enrolled in Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSSs) spread across the country.
Their parents are too poor that they cannot afford to pay an average of K13, 000 tuition fees per term for their children and wards. In Mzimba, for instance, Village Head (VH) Loti Chisambi, reports that over 45 learners dropped out of Mhlafuta, Mtuzuzu and other CDSSs under Mzimba South West Constituency.
“Lack of school fees remains a perennial problem among learners who come from underprivileged households,” said Loti Chisambi. Experts say lack of tuition fees has led to the deepening of social and economic inequalities among Malawians.
The government, in an effort to address the inequalities, introduced the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) Bursary Scheme to create equal opportunities and access to secondary school education for the poor learners.
Currently at K4 million, or 10 percent of the total allocation of the CDF, the scheme could support up to 154 students per year at K13, 000 per term each.
However, an assessment by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) established that the success of the scheme, or lack of it, remains at the mercy of members of Parliament (MPs).
The assessment was conducted through a project CCJP is implementing to reduce underlying socio-economic inequalities that are worsened by poor and defective local development policy.
The project is called “Enhancing Social Accountability in Local Governance to Reduce Inequalities for an Inclusive Malawi” and is being funded by a consortium of the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and Danish Church Aid (DCA). It is being implemented in Karonga covering areas within the jurisdictions of Traditional Authorities (T/As) Mwakaboko and Wasambo.
The project aims at increasing the voices of citizens and enhances actions of the communities in local development processes through social accountability mechanisms in order to reduce underlying socio-economic inequalities that are worsened by poor and defective local development policy.
Essentially, the project intends to contribute to the reduction of inequalities that manifest in local service delivery and development implementation with the overall goal of contributing to ensuring fair and equitable finance and redistribution of resources,” said Chibwana.
And under the theme of “Fighting Inequality”, the project seeks to ensure that duty-bearers are influenced to increase finance for and spending to reduce poverty and inequality and to empower communities so that they are mobilised for just resource governance.
CCJP Project Officer Tuntufye Simwimba disclosed that most of the MPs are still misusing and delaying implementation of the school bursary scheme. Simwimba further stated that lawmakers are deliberately flouting procedures meant to ensure transparency and accountability, and that only deserving students benefit from the scheme.
He pointed out, among others, that while District Social Welfare Officers (DSWOs) and District Education Manager (DEMs), and community structures were supposed to identify beneficiaries, with the role of MPs to sign payment cheques to the respective schools, some legislators are single-handedly identifying the beneficiaries and imposing them on the councils.
In other instances, such as Mzimba West Constituency, the fund has been diverted to other projects, away from boosting retention of poor students in secondary schools. Billy Kaunda, MP for the area, confirmed channelling the resources to youth skills development programmes.
He said the decision was made in full agreement with Senior Chiefs Mtwalo and Mpherembe and Technical Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (Teveta) after consultations with the Area Development Committees (ADCs).
“You will also appreciate that the TEVETA training is equally empowering to the same people of my Constituency who after being empowered with skills will be able to generate money for their families including paying school fees for their family members. If the ADCs have names of secondary school students who need assistance, we can accommodate them as long as the amount doesn’t go beyond the authorized amount of K4 million,” said Kaunda.
“There is only one girl at Euthini Secondary School who I personally pay school fees for, but this financial year, we should be able to accommodate more students and my councillors will be meeting the ADCs on the same to come up with the criteria of identifying the students and their names as beneficiaries,” he added.
In Mzimba South West Constituency, none of the needy students has benefited from the scheme despite the availability of funds. M’mbelwa Area Development Committee (ADC) chairperson Nathan Nyirenda confirmed the development in an interview on Sunday.
Nyirenda said this prompted his committee to summon their legislators – Raymond Chatima Nkhata of Mzimba South West and his Mzimba Solola counterpart – Jacob Hara – to a meeting, which took place at Edingeni Headquarters on August 5, 2021.
The committee demanded answers on why there has been secrecy on the implementation of the scheme. “Their answers were not convincing. We have since demanded that they write reports on the development projects they have implemented since their election in 2019,” said Nyirenda.
Both Nkhata and Hara confirmed being summoned to Edingeni Headquarters where they were quizzed on their involvement in the implementation of the scheme.
“I was there and I responded in person. I think the best is that you ask the ADC secretary who was taking minutes. You may come to me for confirmation,” said Nkhata.
Village Head Loti Chisamibi said it is unfortunate that poor students continue to be deprived of their right to education because of selfishness and greed of the lawmakers. The traditional leader described the development as ‘injustice’ to the electorate.
In Chitipa and Karonga, council officials, who asked for anonymity, said the government needs to popularise the new funding model, arguing that some legislators are being secretive about the existence of the scheme, and consequently lie to their constituents that they are paying the fees from their own pockets.
“The MPs are quiet about the scheme and not many people in the communities are aware of availability of these funds. DSWO is also not involved in identifying and vetting the beneficiaries, but the council is paying school fees,” said an official at Karonga District Council.
Last year, Chitipa East legislator Kezzie Msukwa (MCP) told the media that the same problem of lack of awareness was causing speculation and finger-pointing about the scheme.
CCJP National Coordinator Boniface Chibwana hailed the government for hatching the scheme to help underprivileged, but bright students from the rural areas so that they can attain education thereby reducing the inequalities in the rural areas.
Chibwana said it is therefore unfortunate that local governance structures like Area Development Committees (ADCs) and Village Development Committees (VDCs) are not consulted in the selection process of the bright students who deserve the resources.
“We should at all times engage all people in decisions making processes for us to have tangible and home grown solutions to challenges that affect communities,” he said.