He hoped that after the facility become operational, he, together with other 21 members of the cooperative, would be able to afford basic needs such as food and clothing and send their children to school from proceeds realized from the business.
“Our work as a cooperative is not progressing well, the project stalled because the factory shell still has some works to be completed, such as plumbing and painting plus electricity,” says Mwale.
Over the years, things have remained the same. The dream has not been realized. In fact, the group’s membership has dwindled to 18 with other members dying along the way without even having the chance to see the factory operate.
The dream for Mwale and friends to be financially independent through their factory, whose housing structure, was constructed to the tune of K26 million, are gradually fading.
He cannot believe that it is now over ten years after the factory building was visited by the then Minister of Trade and Industry Sosten Gwengwe who promised it would be operational within months of his call.
Mwale said a processing machine whose value that time was MK12 million was made available by donors to be installed in the facility.
“The facility would have been processing up to 500 kilograms of meat into meat products such as sausages every week, according to what we were told,” he recalls.
With the housing uncompleted and electricity connection not available, the machine is gathering rust in the backyard of the house of one of the cooperative members.
Vivien Msusa is another member of Bwaila Meat Processing Cooperative.
She too had hopes that the coming of the factory shell would not only be an economic turning point for her family and community, but also an opportunity for tens of jobless people in the district.
“We expected that by now, the factory would have been operational, we had hopes that our lives would be transformed. Funds were provided but did not come direct to us; they were provided through the council. If the money came to us, I think we would have done better,” laments Msusa.
The story of Bwaila Meat Processing Cooperative in Zomba is a clear example of how some public officers and institutions are contributing to the country’s failure to attain economic empowerment for local communities through adding value to agricultural produce.
In my investigation, I came to understand how millions of public funds were wasted on a structure meant to be used as a meat processing factory for the cooperative but most of it cannot be accounted for.
Feeling abandoned, the would-be beneficiaries are now clueless on how to proceed.
In my investigation I established that these villagers were asked to provide land for the construction of a factory shell through government’s One Village One Product (OVOP) Project. It was then a popular initiative said to have been modeled on a Japanese concept of community empowerment.
Initially in 2015, the government through the OVOP project made available a meat processing machine worth MK12 million then. But I also established that over K10 million was provided through the district council for the completion of the facility on works such as electricity installation, plumbing and painting but the funds cannot be accounted for.
Further, I found that OVOP provided MK1.5 million and the Local Development Fund provided MK700, 000 for electricity but until now no power is connected to the facility.
District Commissioner for Zomba Reinghard Chavula acknowledges the complaints by the community. She also acknowledges that OVOP money was sent to the council for the completion of the project.
She, however, blames the delay on procurement of the first contractor for the project who did not complete the work.
“What the community is saying is true; that there is that project and it has stalled since 2013 to date. Understandably, there were issues of procurement of the contractor that did not go well and time elapsed,” she says, “Currently we are working on tracing the money that is said to have come in the council coffers during the said years.”
Ministry of Trade and Industry spokesperson Mayeso Msokera asked for more time to consult on the matter when I contacted him for his comment.
However, speaking in parliament recently, Minister of Trade and Industry Sosten Gwengwe, who coincidentally was also the minister of trade back then, acknowledged the challenges facing the cooperative movement in the country, but said government is working towards addressing them.
“Basically it’s an issue of reengagement because there will be some with state of the art infrastructure and it is working properly, yet there will be others struggling. I think I will continue engaging such [groups] so that going forward we give them the much-needed support,” said Gwengwe.
Transparency and accountability watchdog, Centre for Transparency and Accountability executive director Willy Kammbwandira blames the situation at Bwaila Meat Processing Factory in Zomba on failure by the authorities to capacitate communities to provide oversight on such projects.
Kambwandira suggests a forensic probe is needed on the matter.
“This is very unfortunate and it robes the community in Zomba of their economic right. Sadly, this is because projects like these are mostly centrally managed and there is limited participation of the communities,” observes Kambwandira.
Malawi Federation of Cooperatives (MAFECO) executive director John Mulangeni, while encouraging communities, to take ownership of such projects, says members of such cooperatives also need adequate mentorship.
“The challenge is that most of the communities have a dependency culture. They always expect that the one who initiated the project should do everything. Cooperatives are businesses and members need to be ready to invest,” says Mulangeni.
Pillar Number 2 of the Malawi 2063, the country’s development blueprint, focuses on industrialization. It commits Malawi to rural industrialization through the establishment of community factories to add value to agricultural produce.
What is happening in Zomba, does not sit well with this dream.
The Meat Processing Factory was expected to ease demand on meat products in Zomba, reduce unemployment and increase the income and the standards of living for the members and the community at large. Now it is a shuttered dream simply because someone somewhere did not do their job right.
If Malawi is serious on growing her economy through the promotion of small-scale industries, the setbacks such as the one at Bwaila Meat Processing Cooperative must be dealt with decisively for the nation to achieve the much-needed industrialization.