The Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC), a network that promotes the right to quality education and tracks education budgets, discovered during a regular spotcheck survey that 5 million Malawian Kwacha ($11,500) intended for direct support to primary schools had disappeared in Chitipa District of Malawi, where 60,000 students go to school. CSEC took the matter to the District Commissioner, who claimed that he had redirected the funds to the District Health Office – a claim that was later revealed to be untrue.
The group petitioned the Local Government Committee, drawing the community’s attention to the misuse of funds. As a result, the Minister demanded that the money be reimbursed to the schools and the District Commissioner was forced to leave his post and accept a transfer. The team then monitored the District Support to Schools fund to ensure that the funds were returned. ‘The funds were channelled to the benefit of the 60,000 students in Chitipa to purchase stationery, exercise notebooks, security services and small-scale renovation,’ says Benedicto Kondowe, the Executive Director of CSEC.
CSEC, a coalition of 81 organisations, has a long history of data collection and tracking education spending. It has developed a programme on the right to know and the right to education to empower community stakeholders, such as parent-teacher associations, school management committees, traditional and religious leaders and mothers’ groups to engage and hold policy-makers and local authorities to account. This programme has helped to increase funds for special education, reduce rural-urban spending disparities, accelerate disbursement of teachers’ salaries and bring Malawi closer to achieving its Millennium Development Goal target on primary education.
Basic education funds approved by Malawi’s parliament are disbursed from the national treasury directly to district accounts, where they are allocated at the discretion of the district assemblies. This decentralised system provides only limited accountability, as the national and district governments provide little information on the use of these funds.
Once the national and district assembly budgets are announced, teams from CSEC simplify and translate the information they contain from English to Chichewa and distribute it to local communities. Questionnaires sent to head teachers and education officials continuously monitor enrolment rates, teacher absenteeism, budget allocations and spending on teacher salaries.
In the absence of a law on the right to information, CSEC works with government contacts and organisations such as the World Bank and UNICEF that have access to more accurate data. At national level, CSEC actively participates in the Local Education Group and Sector Working Group processes, where some of the issues raised by its work are discussed and strategic decisions for the sector are made.
These efforts have ensured that resources in the education sector benefit Malawi’s youth. ‘It is because our budget tracking empowers the communities to know what is there for them in the budget,’ says Kondowe. ‘There has been tremendous improvement, and now there is room for civil society to sit on the district education committee and participate’.
- Extensive budget tracking at a district level has been possible through mobilising and coordinating civil society groups.
- The absence of a right to information law in Malawi is a challenge. CSEC aims to overcome this through working with its government contacts and with international development partners.