Modalities for implementing the K4 billion funding have edged out councillors and local communities in favour of members of Parliament (MPS), The Nation has learnt.
This is despite the concept note touting it as a means to enhance the capacity of communities to plan, manage and sustain their own development,.
The Community Managed Socio-Economic Project Fund (CMSEP), as the K20 million windfall per constituency is now being touted, is meant to give direct community control, management, procurement and accountability.
The community structures which are meant to be empowered through the fund are village development committees (VDCs) and area development ccmmittees (ADCs), but the guidelines from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development imply that MPs will be responsible for approving projects in consultation with ADCs.
A letter dated May 28 2018 from the Local Government Ministry to district councils, has asked the councils to liaise with MPs on selection of projects while ensuring that ADCs and VDCs are ‘aware’ of the projects selected.
The guidelines submitted to the councils state that MPs have a key role of approving the projects in collaboration with ADCs but there is silence on the ADCs having approval powers.
A governance commentator Makhumbo Munthali, who questioned the fund and earlier demanded modalities for implementation, said the role of the full council in implementing the fund was being undermined.
“This is another Executive attempt to weaken the local government system and make councillors irrelevant. The entire K4 billion [fund] is a recipe for disaster and with the lack of capacity of ADCs and the powers given to MPs, this is another MP fund (rather than community fund) aimed at looting resources for campaign gains,” he said.
The guidelines and concept note indicate that the funds will be disbursed in whole or in tranches to the council’s District Development Fund (DDF) which will then disburse to the community project accounts or contractors.
The community accounts will be managed by the project implementation committees while auditing will be done by community audit committees.
The guidelines indicate that the fund flow will depend on the implementation model being applied and where local contractors are doing the work, the council will disburse based on stages of completion.
According to the guidelines, the fund flow will employ various modalities depending on the implementation model being applied. The others are CDF, DDF and LDF all being implemented at council level.
However, for the 2017/18 financial year, the communities are not required to open bank accounts due to time limitation.
But all councils received the cheques before knowing the modalities and guidelines for implementing the fund, one comprising five percent for administration and the other for the projects yet to identified.
This, according to an expert well-versed in local governance and management, smacks of a fund sanctioned by political patronage and is simply a windfall for MPs this year.
“The framework for its administration is as faulty as the concept. In its current design, it disproportionately favours MPs. In fact, a key question is why should such a community fund denigrate councillors and bypass ward development committees yet it has to be implemented by local governments?” the expert questioned.
The letter to the councils also indicates that money will be taken away from councils that do not use the funds and allocated to councils with a faster absorption rate.
It also indicates that some MPs had already submitted projects to the ministry.
This supports the earlier reports that Minister of Local Government had identified selected MPs who supported the quashing of Electoral Reforms Bills to submit projects for funding.
Munthali said: “Chances are that those constituencies who are on their side may have already put in place projects to utilise the money,” he said.
The Budget and Finance Committee supports the idea not to give councillors and ADCs full control of implementation of the fund, citing capacity challenges.
The committee chairperson Rhino Chiphiko said much as the spirit of the CMSEP was community involvement, it was impossible to operationalise using councillors and ADCs.
He said there were a lot of funding modalities at council level such as CDF, LDF, DDF and recently the borehole fund, and none of them have satisfactorily performed according to audit guidelines.
“If capacity is a challenge with CDF, what more at ADC level?” he said.
Chiphiko also doubted the implementation period ending June 30 as this did not give the councils enough time to identify projects.
Chiphiko, an MP in Lilongwe City South West (Malawi Congress Party), said there was a strong possibility that this would be a continuation of uncompleted CDF projects.
This means MPs now have about K43 million CDF money under their control.n