On December 19 last year, Minister of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development Henry Mussa presided over a second ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of Mzuzu Youth Centre.
The ceremony comes barely a year after his predecessor Grace Chiumia did the same in 2015.
Sadly, this is not the only drama. In June 2015, when President Peter Mutharika commemorated his one year in power, he claimed that his Democratic Progressive Party was constructing youth centres in Mzuzu and Thyolo apart from rehabilitating the Kamuzu Institute for Sports in Lilongwe.
The claims were false. The project has not taken off. Mutharika and his cronies should put this political drama to an end.
All presidents before him have for the past decade promised to construct a modern youth centre in Mzuzu to galvanise youth energy, innovation and knowledge into the engine room for socio-economic development.
Parliament has since 2009 allocated millions of taxpayer’s money towards the project. In the 2014/15 National Budget, they allocated K200 million and this was later raised to K600 million. Previously, two allocations—K20 million and K30 million—were made by Parliament.
Unfortunately, no explanation has been given for failure to construct the promised centre.
The project site remains diserted and overgrown although several ministers—including Jafali Mussa, Henry Chimunthu Banda, Symon Vuwa Kaunda, Etta Banda, Enoch Chihana, and Grace Chiumia—have starred in this unresolved drama.
Downright abuse of power and project resources by authorities has become the worst curse of this expensive ‘ghost’ project.
This has robbed youth of their right to development as protected by Section 30 of the Constitution. Sadly, government seems to lack the commitment to examine the ramifications of its actions on this project.
How could Mussa leave Capital Hill for a second groundbreaking ceremony his predecessor already performed that task a year ago?
What new message did Mussa bring to the helpless youth who have waited for this facility for more than a decade?
Besides, is this how ministers should spend the public kitty when almost 6.8 million people face starvation? Is this not just one way of defrauding government?
This mess continues to militate against national progress. Unfortunately, it remains unchallenged by citizens, including the youth who constitute the country’s ‘dead majority’.
Sadly, this is not the only confusion and incompetence government has created for itself on this ‘ghost’ project.
In November 2016, officials from the Department of Youth travelled to Mzuzu and spoke to media of “significant changes to the project”.
Yet the Mutharika administration has abandoned the original plan to construct a ‘modern youth centre’ without any notice. Instead, government, with the support from China, intends to construct only grounds for netball, volleyball, tennis and football.
This excludes key project facilities, including a youth innovation hub, library, auditorium and conference facility which were part of the original plan developed after thorough consultations.
Gone are these modern facilities to swiftly catapult youth potential into quick and sustainable socio-economic yields in a competitive global environment where innovation, soft skills and ICT revolution are shaping economies.
One also wonders how government prioritised petty sport facilities at the expense of more economically viable facilities when just 500 metres from where Mussa conducted his needless ceremony, stand modern sports arenas constructed by the Reserve Bank of Malawi. The city has a modern sports facility built by Football Association of Malawi (FAM) and Fifa.
Therefore, the imposition of this adulterated youth centre and associated abuse of public resources should be challenged.
It is certain that Mutharika’s administration is grappling to articulate a clear agenda for the youth, but I wish the regime did not fall victim to the desperation of mistaking sporting activities for ‘youth development’.
While sporting facilities will be quick and cheap to construct ahead of 2019 general elections, the socio-economic struggles affecting lives of the youth are massive and need swift and sustainable redress. They include deepening poverty, unemployment, low education opportunities, HIV and Aids, child marriages, lack of healthcare, violence and abuse, or political marginalisation.
These issues are complex and increasing. This is why a competent and responsible political administration is not an option for Malawi. n