AS a border district, Mwanza is always in the spotlight, albeit on an unstable financial stage, as both Malawians and Mozambicans look up to it for health and other services.
That is not the problem, though. The problem is that, for a long time, Mwanza residents have played the role of observer, in terms of monitoring how public funds are being used. Which is not surprising as the people— over 70 percent of whom are farmers, according to National Statistical Office records— are distracted by worries and responsibilities and the demands of daily life.
Following increased transparency in the management of affairs at Mwanza District Council— as evidenced by the vibrancy of members of the District Executive Committee during meetings— community members are now playing an active role in monitoring public expenditure and ensuring that development is trickling down to the people.
That is why Sub-Traditional Authority Govati, long used to settling community disputes, has extended his role, rightfully, to ensuring that his subjects get their part of the national development cake.
A visit to Thambani area reveals that teachers’ houses that remained uncompleted for ages and healthcare service delivery infrastructure that was in shambles now impose themselves on the surroundings.
Which is encouraging because, after tens of community members have constructed personal houses, courtesy of compensation [money] from people who were constructing the railway line from Mozambique into Malawi, the scene has changed.
Grass-thatched houses have, in the case of those who were compensated, been replaced with those of iron sheets. Bicycles, for a long time the most dependable mode of transport in this part of Malawi, have welcomed a more advanced cousin called vehicle.
This was not the case five years ago, when unfinished housing projects littered the environment.
For example, Govati remembers the time when, at Thambani Trading Centre, two houses meant for health workers stood uncompleted for years.
At Kalanga Primary School, a teacher’s house built through the efforts of the Area Development Committee (ADC) stalled at window level for over four years after the project begun.
Then, there was a gravity water project that remained a pipedream even after the commencement of ground work.
This problem was not isolated to Govati’s area. Inkosi Kanduku’s subjects, who have, for the most part since independence in 1964, become used to covering a distance of 10 kilometres to get to the nearest education facility, were at the receiving end of poor service delivery.
For examples, one does not need to go further than Futsa Community Day Secondary School where construction of a school block, courtesy of the European Union, started in 2009 but remained uncompleted for years. And, when construction was completed, some people started using the block that was meant to be a classroom as a hall.
Consequently, learners from neighbouring areas such as Tulonkhondo had to cover a distance of more than eight kilometres to access education facilities at Thawale Community Day Secondary School in the district.
Surely, life could not go on like this. This is how the ‘Collaborative Action in Strengthening Local Governance Project’ came in. A brain-child of Dan Church Aid, with support from Tilitonse Fund, the project saw the Association of Progressive Women (APW) playing a leading role in mobilising communities.
APW acting Executive Director, Noel Msiska, observes that, for the most part, projects that were not meant to stall stalled because of poor coordination between duty-bearers and community members.
“Among other things, we discovered that there is lack of coordination, at various levels of the government, a development which suffocates patriotism and the spirit of community ownership during project implementation. There is also little coordination between the Central Government and district councils in drawing up development plans and annual budgets.
“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. Poor coordination between these levels of governance are clearly demonstrated in the manner in which communities handled all these stalled and unfinished projects,” Msiska says.
Consequently, after enlightening community members on their rightful role in development, there is a bridge over a drift at Mkwilira River in a bid to address mobility problems faced by the pupils and residents in Dzomodya, Mbirizi, Mtaya, Butao and Kumpakiza villages during the rainy season.
Even other delayed projects, notably the Muwanga Okhota Schools Development initiative, where community members proposed the construction of a modern school block; Chidokowe Primary School, a Standard One to Six learning facility that, for a long time, had one block; Golden Village clean water project; Chifunga Police Unit; Ziyaya Chidole School Project, and; Kunenekude Police Unit construction, among others, have seen the light of day.
Moving forward, what can other districts learn from Mwanza community members?
“There is 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,” Msiska says.
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 development projects within their localities. The other task is to review the Local Government Act and Decentralisation Policy.
Whatever the case, the wheels of development are rolling in Mwanza.