Only 12 out of the country’s 28 councils utilised over 80 percent of the Community Managed Social-Economic Project Fund (Comsep), popularly known as the K4 billion Fund, Weekend Nation understands.
Both Treasury and Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development confirmed in earlier interviews that all the funds were disbursed in two tranches, both in June last year—first K2.8 billion and a week later the remaining K1.2 billion. Each constituency was allocated K20.7 million.
According to a progress report compiled by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development which we have seen, only 12 councils used 80 percent of the funds they were allocated. These are Chitipa, Karonga, Nkhata Bay, Nkhotakota, Kasungu, Salima, Ntchisi, Lilongwe, Zomba, Chiradzulu, Blantyre City and Mulanje.
On the other hand, Lilongwe City, which received K80 million, only used K2.3 million or 3 percent of the funds, according to the findings of the survey which was conducted to provide an account of all projects where the funds were used.
Phalombe District Council only used 31 percent of the allocated K102 million while Mwanza District Council used 42 percent of the K41 million it was allocated.
Others are Zomba City which, only used 48 percent of the K20 million it was allocated while Dedza District Council 55 percent of the K163 million it was allocated.
Dowa and Machinga district councils used 49 percent of the K143 million allocated to each while Likoma District Council only absorbed 18 percent of the K20.9 million disbursed.
On the other hand, M’mbelwa District Council, which did not provide accumulative expenditures on the projects it implemented, still has K763 161 540.26 unused.
The council initiated at least 18 projects, although only one road project—the St Mary’s-Champhumphi Road was completed.
The remaining projects, which include staff houses, a health centre and school blocks are at various stages, according to the report.
Although Treasury released the whole K4 billion, the report shows that K3.2 billion has already been spent, but surprisingly in most councils a number of projects are yet to start.
For instance, after spending K90 million out of the allocated K163.5 million, Dedza District Council has four big projects which are yet to start.
The projects include a police unit at Kanyama, a school block at Mtonya, a teacher’s house at Magareta Primary School and a VIP toilet at Kamenyagwaza.
The council has already spent K8.5 million on Nakalazi Bridge, which is still at foundation level.
Similarly, Mwanza District Council spent K17.3 million out of the K41 million it was allocated but only constructed a maternity wing at Thambani and drilled one borehole out of the planned six. The contractor is yet to start works on the remaining five boreholes, which are to be fitted with affiridev and mad pump, according to the report.
Mwanza district commissioner (DC) Francis Matewere refused to comment on the status quo, saying he is preoccupied with elections.
He said: “I am also only six weeks old in office so I am yet to familiarise myself with such matters.”
When contacted for comment Dedza DC Paul Kalilombe said it would be unfortunate if the low absorption of the funds was the fault of the council as this would mean people were denied development.
Lilongwe City chief executive officer John Chome, whose council has the lowest absorption rate of 3 percent, was yet to respond to our questionnaire sent to him on Thursday.
Zomba City Council was also yet to respond to our inquiries.
The progress report, among others, recommends the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) to monitor all projects implemented through Comsep funds and use the lessons learnt to help improve the programme.
It also takes to task councils that have low utilisation rate to hasten implementation of the projects by engaging beneficiary communities.
In an interview, NLGFC director of infrastructure and economic development Paul Chipeta said the committee has mechanisms in place to follow up on the utilisation of funds from different funding windows. But he said his committee would have had more impact in the implementation of the project if it was engaged earlier.
An investigation this paper conducted in March this year showed that delays by six months for some councils to release money to beneficiary communities contributed to the low absorption of the funds.
The findings also showed that disagreements between council officials and area development committees (ADCs) in identifying projects also contributed to delays to begin some projects.
The K20 million windfall per constituency was meant to give direct community control, management, procurement and accountability.
During the Mid-Year Budget Review of the 2017/18 fiscal year, government controversially allocated K4 billion to only 86 out of the 193 MPs in the House.
Minister of Finance, Development and Econnomic Planning Goodall Gondwe had difficulties to justify the funding; hence, it was widely understood as a ‘Thank You’ token to MPs who helped shoot down electoral reforms in the National Assembly in November 2017.
But faced with a public outcry, including nationwide demonstrations, Capital Hill made a U-Turn, and decided to distribute the K4 billion kitty to all the 193 MPs equally.