Community colleges one of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s flagship development projects are facing financial hurdles with staff threatening a sit-in demanding salary arrears and their unpaid dues for April 2017, among others.
Some staff from a number of the colleges in the Southern Region, who spoke to Weekend Nation, said the colleges have also not been consistently receiving their monthly other recurrent transaction (ORT) funding from the government meant for their operations.
The affected staff wrote two memos one dated May 5 2017 to the ministry responsible, giving the ministry notice that they would start an industrial action within seven days if their grievances are not dealt with.
Two members of staff from the affected colleges, Milonga in Thyolo and Thumbwe in Chiradzulu, who visited Nation Publications Limited (NPL) offices in Blantyre last week, said there have been gaps in ORT funding, which amounts to K500 000 per three months.
Coupled with unpaid salaries for all staff in the 12 community colleges in March 2017, the staff members are also claiming salary arrears for their first three months of employment and outstanding leave grants.
A member of staff from Chilobwe Community College in Blantyre City, who asked for anonymity, said as a result of the failure to provide ORT funding, the college was struggling to pay for utility bills, buy stationery, foot public transport costs in the absence of operational vehicles.
Of the proposed 28 colleges, 12 are operational, offering apprenticeship courses in carpentry and joinery, bricklaying, welding and fabrication and textile and designing. One college at Ngala in Karonga offers an additional course in motorcycle mechanics.
Minister of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development, Henry Mussa confirmed in a telephone interview on Tuesday that funding for the colleges has not been consistent and legitimised the concerns raised by staff.
Mussa explained: “The problem is that the colleges started from humble beginnings as such there was no proper funding. I have personally visited the mentioned colleges in the past few weeks and I am aware of their concerns. But there is light at the end of the tunnel as the colleges have now been adequately funded in the 2017/18 financial year.”
He said Treasury has assured his ministry that they were processing the money the colleges need.
But when asked how the government would sustain 28 colleges when it was struggling to fund the initial 12, Mussa said they have identified some partners who would finance the other colleges.
“We are on course to build the next 16 colleges as the European Union [EU] has supported us on the construction of 10 to the tune of 33 million euros in five years, while the Chinese government has adopted five, which leaves only one to be taken care of by the Government of Malawi. We have started well and we will soon conduct a graduation of about 700 artisans,” added Mussa.
According to Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (Teveta)’s head of corporate affairs Lewis Msasa, the problems that have rocked the colleges are inevitable.
Said Msasa: “These are teething problems which do occur in any new programme. We feel these are challenges which will ebb away over time.”
He added that Teveta provides support in areas such as provision of training subsidies to students at K20 000 per student.
DPP promised to open one community college in each of the country’s 28 districts.