District Commissioners (DCs) have dismissed claims by Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe that his ministry has transferred funding to enable the councils pay leave grants to teachers currently staging a sit-in across the country.
Gondwe on Tuesday told members of Parliament (MPs) that the Treasury had transferred funds to the district councils and that it was now up to the councils to decide when to effect payments.
Gondwe was responding to a question First Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Esther Mcheka-Chilenje posed to get clarification on whether the Treasury had indeed transferred the funds or not.
This was after opposition members of Parliament (MPs) had demanded concrete answers on what government, particularly the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, is going to do to deal with the nationwide strike teachers are staging to compel government to resolve their grievances.
Chitipa South MP Werani Chilenga (People’s Party-PP) expressed concern over government silence over the mater.
Chilenga emphasised that the sit-in was not healthy for the country whose education standards continue to dwindle each passing day.
But Minister responsible Emmanuel Fabiano exonerated himself, saying district councils were in a better position to tackle the issue ‘because the ministry no longer has mandate and/or jurisdiction over such payments’.
“And this is why the Teachers Union of Malawi approached the Ministry of Finance to facilitate the payment of the leave grants. And discussions have taken place and I believe that the district councils shall be in a position to pay the leave grants in due course,” he narrated.
He assured that the teachers would get their dues before the end of the 2016/17 financial year onJune 30 2017.
“Let me say that the leave grants are for the current financial year, which is July 2016 that ends 30thJune 2017. So, the financial year is not over yet until probably 30th June . One cannot say that they have not been paid what they should have been paid in the current financial year,” explained the minister.
But chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Elias Chakwera, could not take it.
He demanded that Fabiano should be specific about the date government intends to pay the teachers and get the schools re-opened.
“I want the Minister of Education to tell this House when the Ministry of Finance will transfer money to the district councils and when the district councils will implement the payment,” he demanded.
This prompted Mcheka-Chilenje to ask Gondwe to clarify whether the Treasury had indeed transferred the funds or not.
“Honourable Minister, can I plead with you on behalf of the House. The question is: You should be specific as to when [this payment will be effected].
In your response, I have been following you, you said money is being transferred. And thereafter, you said you are not sure whether as regards to when the Ministry of Finance will transfer the money.
“And now being the House of records, I think we have the Minister of Finance in the House. I think that can best be addressed by the Minister of Finance,” said Mcheka-Chilenje.
In his response, Gondwe claimed the Treasury has transferred the funds into accounts of the councils.
“As Minister of Education has said, there two people involved there, not himself, but Ministry of Finance and the district councils. Let me just say that, I think we may have to go into detail how this is supposed to be organised. As far as we are concerned, we have transferred funds to the district councils. Now it’s for each district council to actually pay the teachers,” he said.
“That is why he (Fabiano) is not able to tell you the date when the payments are to be made because district councils, not only one, but a number of them; have to decide how they are going to do it. As far as we are concerned, they ought to do it because we have the money now,” added Gondwe.
But DCs dismissed the claim in random interviews.
“Government has only given us authority to process payment and not actual funding,” said Mzimba DC Thomas Chirwa.
This was corroborated by Karonga DC Reverend Moses Chimphepo and many other DCs this reporter interviewed.
Meanwhile, TUM president Willie Malimba has vowed that the sit-in will continue until teachers are fully paid their dues.
The strike comes amidst growing concerns from various stakeholders that education standards are steadily going down in the country.