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Talking Blues: Cry my beloved Malawi- destined to chase white elephants?

Posted by on Mar 16th, 2017 . .

Mapwiya Mulupale

Mapwiya Mulupale

Mapwiya Mulupale

President Peter Mutharika says he will brook no excuses for any failure to complete construction of the state-of-the-art National Cancer Centre the project in time.

Laying the foundation stone at the site, he minced no words:“Minister of Health, I want this completed within 18 months and I will be coming here to check that there is progress. I want it done by that time.”

The 18 months’ time frame is therefore not negotiable.

Since the taste of the pudding is in the eating, I will hold my peace and avoid prematurely deriding Mutharika’s podium talk.

After all, speaking requires neitherdata bundles, nor batteries, nor airtime, and costs nothing at all. But while anyone can yappy all day, very few can actually deliver.

Implementation,Blues’ Orators, is where the details arise and thereinrests the devil.

Two points underscore why we needed the National Cancer Centre yesterday.Firstly, we have 14,000 people diagnosed with cancer and our people are dying for lack of immediate and quality cancer treatment.

Secondly, referring patients to countries which had the good sense to build cancer centres while we were building an inland port-now-turned- slab, among other things,is hurting the treasury.

“For so long, we have been sending people abroad like in India for radiotherapy treatment.We cannot afford to facilitate everyone to [travel to] India. This centre… will cut the cost,” said Mutharika awakening at last.

The Minister of Health, Dr Peter Kumpalume, fell short of promising timely delivery,only ambiguously stating that‘expectations point in that direction’.

Construction, scheduled to commence in January 2016, has ostensibly delayed due to ‘depreciation of kwacha’. A load of bollocks.

Never mind that, we seem to be moving and, subject to skilfully navigating past the devil in the detail, we will- one day – have a cancer centre.

From Lilongwe,let’s go to Kabula where about 38 foundation year students at the College of Medicine (CoM) are at risk of withdrawing. Reason =the punitively prohibitive K550 000 tuition fees, or balances thereof.

Just last week, disadvantaged students who secured partial loans from Higher Education Students Loans and Grants Board (HESL&GB) were initially barred from second mid-semester examinations. They were later allowed.

One of them, Moses White, aspiring for aBSc (Pharmacy) has a daunting balance of K400 000.

As you would be, the poor lad is despairing.

With his loan application rejected, a well-wisher from Kanjedza Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church paid K150 000 on his behalf.

“This money only allowed me to register for the first semester, but come second semester, my parents couldn’t afford to raise the balance. We are even struggling to source funds for accommodation, stationery and meal allowances,” disconsolate Moses narrates his ordeal.

CoM dean of students Associate Professor Fanuel Lampiao, confirmed existence of students who haven’t paid anything while others only managed the K200 000 obtained from the Loans and Grants Board.

“Most of the needy students have been allowed to sit for examinations. Those who haven’t been allowed are those who have not paid even a single tambala.

“These students are encouraged to apply for government loan and we will also assist them to find well-wishers to support them. If we are able to find scholarships, we are going to secure for them.

“By the end of the academic year, they are required to finish paying the whole tuition and there is the option that if they are not able to pay their tuition, they can reserve their space and come back the following academic year.

“School is not for free, students are supposed to contribute something or if they cannot, they are advised to look for a loan,” this was Lampiao who by the way, fell short of explaining of how his own education was financed.

Lampiao indicated that about 220 students from the college, foundation year and continuing students inclusive, were given loans by the loans board; adding that the tuition issue has spared no-one.

HESL&GB’s Chris Chisoni said there is no hope in hell for the needy students because the board gives loans per status of individuals identified through screening of their application forms.

“From 2015/16, we were given K1.5 billion which later increased by 100 percent to K3 billion in 2016/17, but then the number of needy students has also gone up, thereby constraining the available funds. Usually the loans granted range from 35 percent to 80 percent. In very rare cases, we go to 100 percent and you should know that in the 2016/17 academic year, we have prioritised more of the tuition fees,” Chisoni said.

Blues’ Orators, allow me to proceed and connect the dots between the Cancer Centre and poor Moses(es) in our midst.

The National Cancer Centre will need doctors.These are the students we are dissing by failing to identify mechanisms – public or private sector driven – from which they can borrow to repay when working at this centre.

Due to this we won’t have expertise, as a result we will hire expatriates, pay them fortunes, to manage cancer cases thereby losing funds via the expats’ hefty packages.

If, somehow, we manage to locally recruit, rest assured that the doctors won’t able to treat our patients due to lack of essential drugs, supplies and equipment maintenance.

Check this: while we can afford to feed the corrupt, we can’t afford Malaria drugs. What more with the specialised cancer drugs and equipment?And hey, don’t mention the intermittent power and water supply.

Is it wrong,Blues’ Orators,to conclude that the National Cancer Centre, whether completed timely or not, is doomed to be yet another white elephant, like the Malawi University for Science and Technology (MUST) was for a better part of its early years?

If you too are puzzled as to which part of their anatomy our greedy leaders use to think, you sure aren’t alone.Free advice: we need to rethink and fix the basics.

  • Article first appeared in Sunday Times 

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