This other week, principle secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development Kiswell Dakamau chided civil society organisations (CSOs) in Malawi for not aligning their programmes to people’s needs, especially what the good PS said were key priority areas.
Dakamau also complained that some CSOs do not involve government (I assume he meant Capitol Hill) and local authorities (I imagine he was referring to councils) in implementing their projects, which he feared could affect programme/project objectives.
It all sounds reasonable, but to me, the problem is not the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in the country or in our councils.
The problem is Capitol Hill and councils for lack of strong leadership and institutional systems that should be in place and adhered to when directing where NGOs should intervene.
In the first place, I doubt that an NGO can walk into a district or any other council and start implementing a project or programme without first talking to the Council Secretariat, especially the district commissioner (DC) and/or the director of planning and development (DPD).
If it is indeed true that an NGO can start implementing its activities without consulting or seeking guidance from the council then we can safely say Malawi is a country whose government thrives on chaos.
My theory is that the technical people at councils just get excited with new projects and potential allowances that they forget, or conveniently ignore, what must be done. Councils have or at least are supposed to have district development plans (DDPs) as strategic documents that are supposed to guide development in councils.
DDPs are formed in consultation with village development committees (VDCs), area development committees (ADCs), Area Executive Committees (AECs), councillors, parliamentarians and the district executive committee (DEC), among others.
The DDP’ development follows a bottom-up approach so that the contents are demand-driven as opposed to supply-driven.
Out of the DDPs come annual investment plans (AIPs) to operationalise the council’s broader plan based on the priorities identified in the DDP within the context of the council’s socio-economic profile.
Both the DDPs and AIPs are costed and resource gaps identified. Where there are resource gaps in the priority areas; that is where councils should direct NGOs.
In other words, it is within the powers of the technical people, including the DC and DPD, to look at the interests of the NGO and guide it accordingly and ensure that the development assistance from the NGO is aligned to the district’s AIP and the broader DDP to achieve development objectives for the local authority.
But what really happens in practice is that most councils either do not have DDPs and AIPs or they have them, but never use them as a development guide.
This blind eye to the documents is either because the officials have forgotten the contents after throwing them away once they have been developed and launched or are so excited with the prospect of allowances that any project—regardless of whether it adds value to the district or not—is still embraced.
This failure to align projects to development plans is not the plague of councils alone. Even Capitol Hill, where Dakamau is one of the top technocrats, is ensnared by it. For decades, we have seen the national budget failing to align itself in any meaningful way to the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III)—the medium-term strategy for Malawi designed to contribute to the country’s long-term development aspirations.
Government has even failed, and miserably so, to align the MGDS itself to the Vision 2020, now just two years to its expiry upon which, lo and behold, we are supposed to attain the middle income country status! (We are far from it).
I even wonder if the current national blue-print, MGDS III, has done enough to align itself to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—a package of the global agenda for inclusive and equitable growth succeeding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—let alone the African Union Agenda 2063, whose domestication remains elusive.
These days, I am not even sure whether we still have the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) to guide our public infrastructure capital injections. Stuff just start from the political podium and, voila, graders start working on a road the following day. Some of these projects don’t even have any multiplier effects let alone offer national leverage.
While government acknowledges that “the strong linkage is critical for broad-based ownership, improved accountability, monitoring and evaluation and sustainability” there does not appear to be any serious effort at aligning resources to the needs or priorities of the people even at national level, let alone local context.
Is it any wonder that poverty levels are still on a straight line and all our overarching development blue-prints have failed to meet their economic growth targets and poverty reduction projections?
So, no, Mr. Dakamau, first put your main house at Capital Hill in order then the satellite houses that are councils before trying to complain about NGOs’ so-called failure to align their activities to people’s needs.