Communities demand probe into alleged abuse of funds meant for water project

By Synd Kalimbuka

Communities from Chingale in Zomba have demanded Zomba District Council to provide reports on the unfinished Chingale Water Users Association (WUA) project which was funded by African Development Bank (AfDB) in 2012 amid claims that funds for the project were abused.

The citizens from area in the area of Sub Traditional Authority Nkapita are very concerned with the way the council has been treating people of this area saying they have been sidelined when it comes to Implementation of development projects.

In 2012, government of Malawi sourced funds from African Development Bank for improvement of water supply in some districts including Zomba.

Similar projects in other districts including Machinga were completed and handover of the office complex and other items including office furniture, vehicles, motorcycles and computers took place in such districts to the once introduced concept Water Users Association (WUA).

The handover ceremony was done after completion of the rehabilitation and extension of water system in gravity fed schemes.

Surprisingly, in Chingale area nothing has so far been handed over to the community.

The district council engaged HEMA construction company to rehabilitate gravity fed water scheme and the company told the community in the area that it will install new big pipes to expand the catchment area.

Reports indicate that the company didn’t provide desired and expected services to the community because out of 7 group village heads intended to reach out with water system, only two are benefiting.

They say the construction company just built the office complex but started collecting pipes back to what communities don’t know before the project ended.

Taskforce in a group photo with council officials

Chairperson for Chingale Taskforce Francis Chitsulo Gondwa demanded clarification on the matter from officials from district council during interface meeting held at Mango Lodge in the district.

Gondwa said water challenges in the area have been there for so long and communities were happy with AfDB funded project but at the end nothing worked to their best.

“The project has not yet finished 9 years down the line and we feel sidelined by the council in terms of development projects as situation is worsening,” said Gondwa.

Gondwa demanded justification and clarification on why the project has not finished despite millions of money paid to the contractor while the council is silent.

Sub Traditional Authority Nkapita openly told district council officials that his subjects want justice on the matter and demanded investigation and audit to put to light where the money borrowed from the bank went.

He added that anyone found to have misused the money should be demanded to pay back.

“People from Chingale want this case investigated and brought to book those involved in the process because they are very angry over the unfinished project,” Nkapita said.

Zomba district council has been silent on the unfinished project since 2014 when the contractor left the site.

At the meeting, Zomba district council was represented by Directorate of Planning and Development, Monitoring and Evaluation and Community Development Officers.

Responding to the concerns, District council Administrative officer Darlington Kawawa admitted that there were challenges in the implementation of Chingale WUA project in rehabilitation of gravity fed water system saying all involved parties including communities, district council and contractor had weaknesses which resulted into unfinished project.

On amount spent on the project and office furniture, computers and inventories, he asked for more time to consult where he promised to provide response to the taskforce.

However, Kawawa said as this will be followed up, there is another project to rehabilitate the same scheme with funding from Work Bank with a tune of K500 million which he believes that will address water challenges in the area.

Gondwa, Chairperson for Chingale Taskforce, assured Kawawa that the taskforce will continue demanding for transparency and accountability on the ADB money which was meant for the whole project.

Programme Officer responsible for Economic Governance at Centre for Social Concern which supported the interface meeting said the Organisation supported the meeting to provide platform for communities to demand transparency and accountability on implementation of water project at Chingale.

Mphepo said there was limited transparency and accountability on duty bearers’ side during implementation.

“To us is a starting point where the district council should start engaging citizens in provision of appropriate information,” he said.

Mphepo added that the positive side of the meeting is that community has learnt that government will engage another bank in provision of water through rehabilitation of gravity fed scheme which will help supply of water in the area.

“What I have also learnt is that the money for the first donor was not properly used by the implementers. In economics, you cannot borrow money from two lenders to make one project as this is not fair to the government,”Mphepo added.

He concurred with the taskforce on the need to follow the issue because the citizens are the ones who pay more in terms of taxes when paying back the loans government gets.

Mphepo advised citizens of Malawi to develop a special interest in order to follow up issues of public finance management.

 

National Sustainable development goals 6 and District Development Plan for Zomba talk about provision of portable water to the citizenry.

Centre for Social Concern with funding from GIZ supported the meeting under the project titled ‘Strengthening Capacity of Citizens to demand transparency and accountability for improved public finance management to reduce poverty and inequality’.

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