In the course of providing sustainable community projects, we need to direct our focus and attention to the community members since they are the primary beneficiaries of the projects in as far as the improvement of their livelihood is concerned.
But are the community projects provided to the rural people in the way that ensures improved performance, efficiency and sustainability?
Before going further, let us remind ourselves what sustainability of a community project means. A community project can be said to be sustainable when “after being provided, it delivers and continues to deliver over a long period of time, an appropriate level of benefits to those served and to be served in future”.
It is worth noting that provision of community projects is not only the mandate of the State, but also several players such as local and international NGOs, private companies, and aid agencies.
To guide in the provision of services in the country, the State has come up with several policies, strategies, legislations and operational documents; such as the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II (MGDS II), Decentralisation Policy (1998), Local Government Act (1998), Gender Policy (2000), National Water Policy (2005), and National Sanitation Policy (2008), and so on.
Despite all these guidelines, the provision of community projects in the country is marred by several irregularities. The irregularities can be traced from the projects provided by some State institutions as well as those provided by other non-State actors.
The decentralisation process gives autonomous powers to the district councils to plan, implement, and monitor and evaluate development projects within their areas of jurisdiction. But despite the efforts made at district level in involving the community members in the project cycle, some institutions still provide community projects using the Service Delivery Approach or Top-Down Approach instead of the recommended Demand Responsive Approach.
Imagine some institutions undertake community projects in the districts without the knowledge of district officials who are better placed to know where the services are needed most in the districts. There is a danger of providing services to well-served areas at the expense of under-served or worse still the un-served areas, if the district officials are not consulted in the provision of community projects in their districts. In the same vein, I do not expect a development project to be undertaken at a community level without the knowledge, involvement and participation of the community members (both men and women, including the vulnerable people) themselves.
I strongly advocate the involvement of the district officials as well as beneficiary communities in the process of providing development projects so that they take part in either the supervision, follow-up or monitoring and evaluation of the projects.
Since most facilities or assets provided at community level are bound to break down at one point or another, arrangements need to be made for the regular maintenance and repair of these facilities. The beneficiary community members or users of the facilities need to be empowered to own and be responsible for their operation, maintenance and management for sustainability purposes.
It should be emphasised that community projects can sustainably be provided for the benefit of the rural people in the country if only the communities and the relevant supporting structures are involved and participate throughout the project cycle.
This can be achieved if there is a concerted and coordinated effort of all players involved. There is also need that all relevant policies and regulations are followed by all involved regardless of their level of service provision, be it either at central, regional/zonal, district, community level or private sector level.