On Thursday, 13th September, Malawi President Peter Mutharika officially opened the Aida Chilembwe Community Technical College. The college is one of the community technical colleges being built in the country as one of the electoral promises of Mutharika and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). One of the few things that Peter Mutharika passionately talked about in the run up to the 2014 general elections was the construction of technical colleges. Even now, DPP apologists are calling the technical colleges ‘the DPP flagship project’.
According to reports, Aida Chilembwe Community Technical College has been constructed to the tune of 446 million Kwacha. Knowing the rampant corruption in the construction industry, the actual figure should be much lower with some millions of Kwachas lost in the process. When I saw the 446 million Kwacha figure, I immediately remembered a similar figure being mentioned recently.
Earlier this year, the country learnt with shock that DPP and Mutharika benefited from a Malawi Police Service fraudulent procurement deal. The party pocketed K145 million in a procurement scandal masterminded by some senior police officers that defrauded the taxpayers of K466 million in a ration racket of over K2 billion through a fraudulent contract the police entered into with businessman Zameer Karim trading under a company called Pioneer Investments. The Police paid him an extra K466 million on the contract without following procedures. Out of this money, Karim paid K145 million to DPP through an account which President Peter Mutharika is a sole signatory.
Most of the times, when figures like 466 million Kwacha are mentioned in corruption scandals, it is not easy for some people to visualize what such money could have done if it was used properly for the development of the country. The 446 million figure mentioned as being the amount used to construct Aida Chilembwe Community Technical College helps to visualize the magnitude of loss of resources due to corruption. In short, the amount of money lost in the Police scandal could have built another community technical college!
There is one name which is the common denominator in the construction of Aida Chilembwe Community Technical College and the money lost in the Police Scandal. That’s the name of President Peter Mutharika. The same person that is being applauded as being the one who made it possible to build the 446 million Kwacha technical college is the same person mentioned in the loss of 466 million Kwacha in the Police scandal.
The significance of this can not be overemphasized. By being involved in the misappropriation of taxpayers money, Mutharika is denying the country the same things that he ‘passionately’ wants the country to have. He is also denying himself the legacy that he desperately needs.
At the official opening of Aida Chilembwe Technical College, Mutharika said by December this year, all districts in Malawi will have technical colleges. This would have been good news had it been that the colleges opened so far were built to high quality standards, with good equipment and constant flow of funds for managing them.
The stories so far are disappointing. Earlier this year the nation newspaper reported that inadequate funding had slowed down the push to provide quality training in the community technical colleges. The newspaper reported that Ngara Community Technical College in Karonga, where Mutharika officially launched the skills development initiative in March 2015, is one of the affected colleges.
It further reported that during a tour, Ngara Community College Principal Green Nyirongo said inadequate funding force instructors to contribute money for the running of the institution, especially settling utility bills. Can you believe that? The billions of Kwachas being lost to corruption could have gone a long way to make the community colleges successful. It’s unfortunate that the same leader who want’s to develop the country is presiding over unprecedented corruption in the country.
The community colleges are a good initiative which, if implemented correctly, would indeed help in improving skills for the youth. However, with current implementation strategy, the students will come out half-baked or worse still without any improvement whatsoever.
It seems, the DPP government is just interested in numbers. “We have built community colleges in every district as promised and many students have already graduated, here are the photos, DPP woyee!” Poorly equipped colleges, lack of highly trained instructors and perekani perekani type of funding means that the students graduating from these colleges can only manage kuperekera matope during brick making. This project, as being implemented now, is a failure.
In the remaining eight months of his Presidency, Muthakira and DPP should stop concentrating on benefiting from proceeds of fraudulent deals and get back to the work of fulfilling the many promises they made in 2014. The billions lost so far have denied Malawi the necessary development that would enable it move away from the status of being one of the poorest countries in the world.
*Views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily of Malawi24.