The Tonse administration has abandoned the telecentres project which was aimed at providing access to information communications and technology (ICT) in rural communities.
The new government says a majority of the 31 centres that cost K1.3 billion were built in wrong places.
However, after a strategy review, the new administration has opted for a new project called Connect a School (CAS), Minister of Information Gospel Kazako has disclosed.
“Most of the centres in 23 districts the centres are located, were closed because some political leaders built the facilities closer to their homes or farms, and because of their location, not many people can access the services,” he explained.
According to the concept of the project, a telecentre was to be constructed at a commercially viable trading centre where there are key government institutions such as schools, government offices, police, a health centre, among others.
A telecentre is a public place where people can access computers, the Internet, and other digital technologies that enable them to gather information, create, learn, and communicate with others.
The concept document shows that the average cost of constructing a telecentre in a constituency was K55 million, which would have translated to K10.5 billion for the country’s 193 constituencies.
Each facility was equipped with furniture, Local Area Network (LAN), cubicles and air conditioning at a cost of K15 million translating to K465 million for the 31 centres.
The telecentres were being managed by the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority and Malawi Posts Corporation.
On the other hand, each CAS site is estimated to cost K25 million, and so far 11 educational facilities are operational under the project. They include Mzuzu University which has no computers after its library was destroyed by fire.
Others are Mlanda Girls Secondary School in Ntcheu which is expected to be commissioned next month and 15 teacher development centres (TDCs) which were connected with funding from the World Bank and the government of Malawi.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Association of Malawi president Bram Fudzulani agreed with Kazako that the CAC project was politically driven and ended up not fulfilling the intended objectives of imparting the digital skills to the rural population.
He said: “This time around, government should ensure that politics is taken out of the project and that all stakeholders are engaged for their input. This is important so that we all move together.”
Fudzulani said the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for the country to revolutionise the digital platform and ICT literacy levels.
Former minister of Information Mark Botomani in a telephone interview on Thursday also agreed with Kazako on the politicisation of the telecentre project.
” It is true that some MPs were pushing for the facilities to be built in places where members of the communities did not like and this led to a number of differences, but the concept was a good one and just needed to be improved,” he said.