Melina Msiska had little knowledge let alone involvement about the School Improvement Grant (SIG) until the day she found herself being imposed as the treasure of the committee for Mnthonje Primary School in Chizungu zone in Mzimba South Education zone.
On the material day, Msiska left her home to Mzimba Boma about 40 kilometers away with the sole aim of buying her day to day necessities. However, her journey coincided with the day members from Mnthonje Primary School which is from her home area came to withdraw SIG money.
“On the day I came to Mzimba and after I finished my shopping, I was approached by one member from the committee who asked me to help them by acting as the treasure of the committee managing SIG fund at our school,” Msiska explained.
“This was after they were refused to withdraw the money as they came without a treasure who is supposed to be a signatory in withdrawing the money. Reluctantly, I accepted and he coached me on what I should say at the District Education Manager’s office for them to be granted the cheque so that they succeeded in withdrawing the cash and it happened that we withdrew the money,” she said.
After they collected the money they bought all that they had planned to buy for the school but Msiska was not convinced how things went once they returned home during an auditing.
“Of the money we collected MK350, 000 in total we bought a number of things but after we returned when we were auditing, about MK45, 000 was missing but I was not convinced with the reaction from members,” she said.
“All they said was that maybe the bank machine erred and nobody seem troubled about the missing money that it made me think that something fishy was happening but then I kept quiet,” Msiska said.
Msiska was given the money which was left to keep as a treasure but after some days, she received a visitor who asked her to give him MK15, 000 which he claimed had been sent by one of the committee members, what the money was to be used for the treasure has no knowledge up to date.
This withdrawal was followed by another one with no explanations as to what the money will be used for and Msiska could not object to the requests since she was just eloped into the committee with no knowledge of the guidelines to follow.
Both the missing money and the two withdrawals that were made after, its whereabouts is still unknown and the treasure has no any explanation to make something she said made her mind to come out and clear her involvement.
“After seeing all these things, I feared that one day I might be held accountable since I was the treasure so I decided to tell the story to some concerned committee members to clear my name and then I informed the committee that I am stepping down but they resisted at first but I maintained my cause and resigned,” she said.
This is just an example of what is happening to the SIG money. While it is succeeding in fulfilling its intended purpose in schools, in some schools the fund is unaccounted for.
The School Improvement Grant (SIG) is an initiative of the Malawi Government with the support of development partners. Established in 2007, the grant is meant to directly support schools to realize the outcomes of the School Improvement Plans (SIPS).
It was introduced to support the 1998 decentralization policy which among other things was meant to bring services closer to the right holders.
Through this initiative, schools get financial support directly from the central government to implement planned activities at school level. The grant was firstly introduced as Direct Support to Schools Program (DSSP) and later changed to SIG in 2014.
Since the introduction of SIG in 2007, years have passed and a lot of things have taken place in SIG financing chain starting from the central government to implementing units which are schools.
While SIG is meant to support schools realize the outcome of SIPs, its utilization has in some schools being abused. Those entrusted with the running of SIG projects are taking advantage by floating procedures resulting in the SIG money ending in people’s pockets.
An assessment by the Mzimba District Education Network (MZIDEN) and Khosolo Foundation for Development (KHOFODE) in five schools namely Kamimba, Kanonono, Mlewezi, Kabiza and Mkumbanjala in Kabena and Unyolo zones in Mzimba also reveals how SIG money is currently being abused.
According to the report findings, despite all schools receiving funding, there were mixed reaction in the way the money was utilized as in some schools it was hard to notice real impact on the ground.
Reads parts of the report, “schools like Kamimba, Mkumbanjala and Mlewezi had well documented reports and verifying with them on the ground could see things moving but this was not the same in other schools like Kabiza and Kanonono where school authorities even struggled to come up with figures from the SIG reports.”
“For example at Kabiza despite receiving MK608, 215, authorities failed to give a breakdown of utilization at the school. The worst happened at Kanonono Junior Primary School where despite receiving MK766, 065 authorities at the school only spent MK589, 426 and remaining MK176, 639 could not be traced. “
“Upon interrogation the Head teacher admitted to have kept MK190, 000 which is about MK14, 000 above the discovered figures as indicated in the SIG report for the
School. Apart from that, the Head teacher further revealed that he was also possessing MK100, 000 meant for the construction of girls changing room at the school.”
Reacting to the reports, education Stakeholder Benedicto Kondowe who is also Executive Director for Civil society education Coalition-CSEC said government need to revisit the whole program as there is no proper expertise on the part of community members on how the program can be run hence some members took advantage of the situation to abuse the funds.
He said the issue of supervision is also one grey area which allows those in the committees to run the program in contrast with the expectations.
“The program meant well but government overlooked some issues such as equipping the community on how to run the program instead of relying on teachers and ADC members only whom he said can have other personal interests contrary to the wishes of the people” said Kondowe.
However, Ministry of Education spokesperson Lindiwe Chide expressed ignorance of any reports of abuse of funds in this program saying since it started they have not received any reports of any abuse from members.
She however warned that people who are involved in any malpractice will face the arm of the law as such acts bring negative impacts in the success of the project.
SIG involves procurement of different construction and other materials and has well stipulated guidelines that call for the need to institute the finance and procurement sub-committees to look into these issues.
According to the SIG financial management guideline ‘every school shall have an SMC finance and procurement sub-committees who shall act as a planning and implementing agents once the funds have been withdrawn.