For Chimwemwe Ndhlovu, quality education is a false promise.
The 14-year-old pupil has reached Standard Seven at Mkunguni Primary school in Mzimba South East Constituency learning in grass-thatched classes.
The school in Khosolo was supposed to get a K1.6 million classroom block funded by Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
But hopes for a delayed escape from leaky and dusty learning environment were dashed as construction materials for the new classroom block did not arrive.
“When it rains, classes are suspended and teachers run to their homes, leaving us in one corner,” says Chimwemwe, who dreams to become a nurse.
This is a persistent experience for almost 200 pupils who learn in shacks with leaky grass thatches at Mkunguni.
They ask: what happened to the public funds?
For 10 years, CDF has suffered numerous abuses, especially mismanagement and substandard works and ghost projects.
However, the ‘ghost projects’ keep haunting ordinary citizens the fund aims to uplift.
The raw deal at Mkunguni could be symptomatic of a graver problem.
In fact, M’mbelwa District Council’s financial report, presented to councillors, shows the remote school has a modern school block, but this is a hoax.
A recent inquiry into the 2015/16 CDF by Mzimba District Education Network (Mziden), funded by ActionAid, reveals glaring transparency and accountability gaps in the execution of CDF projects.
The tracking of CDF expenditure reveals that some school projects only exist on paper.
During a recent visit to Mzimba South East Constituency, there was nothing on the ground at Mkunguni and Senga primary schools and Kachere Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) which are listed as having decent classroom blocks worth K6.8 million from CDF.
Farcically, the council claims to have spent K1.6 million on the nonexistent classrooms at Mkunguni, K1.08 million at Senga Junior and K2.4 million at Kachere.
“All we have here at Mkunguni are old, dilapidated grass-thatched school blocks built by parents. It’s a pity such sums were spent, but nothing happened to change pupil’s learning environment,” says group village head (GVH) Dan Khwawa.
Head teacher Yambani Nkosi bemoaned that the suspected plunder and misuse of public funds, reflects gross indifference to pupils’ plight in rural schools.
“It is insensitive that children are learning in deplorable conditions, sitting on a dusty floor in grass-thatched sheds, while the council purports that we have modern classrooms. This is pathetic,” he says.
Similarly, Senga Junior Primary School last received CDF materials in 2014.
GVH Mtangala Theu questions the council’s financial report.
“There are no documents proving that the school received construction materials,” he asserts.
Children still use congested, dusty classrooms.
However, the major bizarre is that Kachere CDSS only exists on paper.
The locals have no idea about the secondary school which supposedly received K2.4 million, they say.
“It’s quirky,” says head teacher Elijah Shaba. “There is no CDSS here. What we have is a primary school.”
According to village head Austin Fumbirani, the remote area needs a CDSS as most children walk over 15 kilometres to Ng’ombechinda CDSS.
“Help us track the said money. We cannot wait for a CDSS,” he says.
Mzimba South East legislator Rabson Chihaula Shaba pledged to probe the queries.
He suspects the anomalies could be a result of flouting CDF guidelines and sidelining Area Development Committees (ADCs).
“We rarely involve ADCs, which are custodians of community development, but now we are involving them,” says the parliamentarian.
Mzimba Solola is another setting of the irksome story of false promises.
The contentious financial report shows the council spent K5 million to transport school project materials for Kamwazeka and Chasato CDSSs, but the schools got nothing.
Mzimba Solola legislator Jacob Hara sanitised the gray areas in the contested financial report as just typing errors by council officials.
Hara reckons the revelations are “just lies” from disgruntled councillors desperate to unseat him.
But who is to blame?
Khosolo ADC chairperson Patrick Nyirongo blames council officials for sidelining ADCs whose heads are signatories for funds for community projects.
He accuses some legislators who let their party supporters to pose as ADC chairpersons.
“There are signatures in the papers, but they are not mine. I did not authorise the purchase of materials for the ghost projects at Kachere, Senga and Mkunguni,” he explains.
He reportedly raised the issue with district commissioner (DC) Thomas Chirwa.
“He told me the secretariat is compelled to release CDF cheques because MPs are nagging and forceful when it comes to CDF projects,” says Nyirongo.
ActionAid programmes coordinator in Mzimba, Wongani Mugaba, calls for frequent audits in councils.
“There is need for checks and balances to prevent misuse of funds and end mismatches between financial reports and what is on the ground,” Mugaba says.
The organisation financed the tracking of CDF projects in schools as part of a global campaign for improved financing for education to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number four.
Mziden chairperson Teckson Amadu says the findings confirm lack of transparency and accountability in management of CDF, with members of Parliament (MPs) knowingly flouting procedures.
“Sadly, no one has been penalised for this misconduct,” he says.
According to CDF guidelines, not knowing the procedures is no excuse or defence for any punishable offence.
But millions continue going to waste.
Almost K6.8 million went unaccounted for in Shaba’s constituency while Hara’s constituents want answers on how K8.022 million was used.
The DC told the press that the disparities between public expenditure and actual projects emanated from typos. n