Government is yet to release funds for the Covid-19 Urban Cash Intervention programme expected to benefit 185 248 Malawians in the cities of Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Blantyre and Zomba.
Chief economist responsible for social protection in the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development Bessie Msusa has said the roll out has delayed because government is waiting for a contract with mobile phone operators.
In the programme, each beneficiary was expected to receive at least K35 000 for three months, starting from January 2021.
But in an interview on Wednesday, Msusa said Capital Hill is finalising agreements with service providers and that beneficiaries whose identities were confirmed will start receiving the funding soon.
Said Mussa: “For Mzuzu and Zomba, the screening process was completed. In Lilongwe, it is still underway, while for Blantyre, we are starting the process tomorrow [Thursday]. However, in Mzuzu and Zomba some households didn’t show up when councils and service providers TNM and Airtel were doing the processes. But they can do that on their own.
“So, those households whose details we have and are ready we are supposed to pay, but we have minor glitches with service providers and we are sorting out that.”
She did not specify the glitches, nor did she say how soon they will be sorted out.
“We cannot wait for all the 199 000 households to finish their KYC [Know Your Customer] processes. At the moment we are just waiting for the contract with the MNOs [Mobile Network Operators] so that they can pay those households whose details are complete,” she said.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) national coordinator Luke Tembo has since urged government to act with speed, saying any further delays will mean the money will not serve its purpose.
“With the delay, we may end up finalising the process when effects of Covid-19 are gone. We are in a crisis and those responsible for the protocols must appreciate that. Covid-19 has been here for almost a year, so what is preventing them from doing the needful?” wondered Tembo.
On his part, Moses Mkandawire of the Church and Society arm of the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia said restrictions imposed as part of preventing the spread of the pandemic had slowed down economic activities for many people.
“What it means is that people are earning less or nothing at all. So they need help; hence, the need to expedite the processes on the programme,” he urged.
At K35 000, it means government will spend about K6.48 billion each month, and roughly about K19.45 billion by March to have all the targeted persons receive the social protection package.
President Lazarus Chakwera said last month that the Ministry of Finance released K17.52 billion for urgent use in responding to the new wave of infections and hospital admissions. He said part of the package would go towards the Urban Cash Intervention programme.
In April 2020, former president Peter Mutharika announced that the programme would benefit 80 178 urban poor people in Lilongwe, 66 744 in Blantyre, 17 258 in Mzuzu and 8 703 in Zomba, bringing the total to 172 000 households.
The number of beneficiaries has since been revised and Blantyre will now have 71 517 beneficiaries, Lilongwe 85 913, Mzuzu 18 493 and Zomba 9 325 beneficiaries of the K35 000 monthly stipends.
It is envisaged that the beneficiaries will translate to 35 percent of the urban poor, with the target being the elderly, child-headed families, those with physical disabilities and casual labourers living in densely-populated peri-urban hotspot areas.