It has emerged that the country’s four city councils received just K4.4 billion of the K24.9 billion collectively allocated for city roads projects in the 2021/22 financial year, a development that has exposed budget implementation challenges.
The funding challenges left the city councils failing to complete road projects as per plan.
But Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs spokesperson Taurai Banda said in a written response that implementing agencies such as city councils also shoulder the blame for delaying submission of certificates of completion of works.
He said: “This is because Treasury does not release funding where an MDA [ministries, department and agency] has not submitted certificates of works.
“The only funding which is made without certificates is the advance payment to projects which are done upon request.”
Records show that in the 2021/2022 National Budget, Parliament approved K24.9 billion for road construction and rehabilitation projects across the four cities.
Blantyre City Council was allocated K8.9 billion, Lilongwe K7.8 billion while Zomba and Mzuzu had K4.1 billion each.
However, according to the records, only K4.4 billion was released by the close of the financial year on March 31 2022.
Blantyre City Council planned to construct or upgrade the Ndirande-Nkolokoti, Mahatma Gandhi-Kapeni, Michiru-Likhubula, Newlands-Manje via Chiwembe, Old Zomba-Mapanga from Machinjiri to Mapanga joining Zomba Road, Namiwawa-Sunnyside and Lali Lubani to Chinyonga roads.
However, construction of the Mahatma Gandhi-Kapeni Road junction slip lanes launched in July 2021 is yet to be finalized despite having a December 2021 deadline.
In Lilongwe, the city council plans to upgrade and rehabilitate Area 49 Old Gulliver-Kaunda Road, Mchesi-Area 23 Road, Area 25-Dzenza Road, Biwi-Penyenye-Area 38 and Mtandire-Old Airport Airwing Road.
Three of the projects, namely Kaunda Road, Mchesi-Area 23, Area 25 to Dzenza Road and Old Gulliver Road have been carried over from the previous budget.
In Mzuzu City, the budget provided for the rehabilitation and upgrading of Dunduzu-Mzuzu Academy road, upgrading to asphalt surface of Dunduzu-National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) fuel reserves access road as well as Mzuzu Government and Luwinga roads.
Mzuzu City Council spokesperson McDonald Gondwe said Treasury disbursed K600 000 of the allocated K4.1 billion allocation.
Blantyre City Council officials refused to speak on the issue, describing it as ‘very political’. However, available data shows that all road projects budgeted for in the 2021/2022 financial year missed deadlines while some did not start due to funding challenges.
Meanwhile, Malawi Local Government Association (Malga) chief executive officer Hadrod Mkandawire has said city councils are eager to deliver projects in time, but the problem lies with the central government.
He said: “No council can deliberately delay a project. They depend on the central government because they cannot raise the funds on their own.”
Mkandawire expressed discontent with the central government for also reducing allocation in the fund despite the fact that the councils have leftover projects to complete.
He suggested that government should allow the councils to collect fuel levies generated within their jurisdictions to boost resources for the road projects.
But governance expert Vincent Kondowe said fuel levies should only be controlled at national level.
He also said the councils’ reliance on the central government for funding beats the whole essence of decentralisation.
Said Kondowe: “With the advent of decentralisation, councils must not look up to the central government for funding because doing so means that we are rolling back to the old system.
“It is the responsibility of the councils to do the projects. It’s high time they are innovative enough and find alternative means of raising funds for city development.”
The Local Government Act empowers councils to make decisions on local governance and development for the city, promote infrastructural and economic development through urban development plans, consolidate and promote local democratic participation and mobilise resources within and outside the city for its operations.
However, government came up with the City Roads Construction Fund to improve road connectivity in the cities to match international standards.