In Eastern Province, money from CDF, earmarked for youth and skills development is being misused, with councils paying for students who either completely skip their training programmes or leave trade schools prematurely. Despite these challenges, councils persist in investing heavily in youth and skills development.

In Chipangali, one of the constituencies in the province, the council paid over K2.6 million to 543 pupils in boarding secondary schools and skills development learners in May 2022.

During the council meeting held in February 2023, Francis Ndola, the secretary of Chipangali Town Council, disclosed that in the previous year, the constituency paid more than K607,00 for 145 students enrolled in skills development training. Regrettably, only 96 students reported, 10 absconded, and 38 failed to attend.

Political interference

MakanDay has also established that politicians' participation in the selection process significantly contributes to students leaving training institutions prematurely. This is often the case because political connections take precedence over motivated and eager students during the selection process.

Several senior officers within provincial councils informed MakanDay that a significant number of councils have incurred substantial financial losses by paying fees to skills training centres for students who subsequently abandon their courses.

Another contributing factor to this problem is the inadequate communication between students and political leaders in various wards across the province. Many students often lacked proper information about the enrolment requirements for these institutions.

In a bid to secure the highest number of students sent to trade schools, councillors prioritised paying tuition fees, but overlooked crucial aspects such as providing students from rural areas with necessary resources like food and accommodation.

Voices of youth

For instance, John Phiri from Naviluli ward in Chadiza district, located approximately 180 kilometres from Chipata disclosed that political leaders assured them of free skills training at Chipata Trades but failed to provide accommodation and adequate sustenance, leaving students to fend for themselves.

Another student from Chadiza, Aaron Zulu, echoed the sentiment and disclosed that he left the trade school due to hunger and lack of support. Zulu explained that they were dropped off at Chipata Trades Training Institute without any provision for food or accommodation, contrary to what their councillor had promised.

“We were simply left at the school premises, and that night, we found ourselves in the kitchen with no food. The school authorities instructed us to find our own accommodation in the nearby compounds, contradicting what our councillor had promised. Given my impoverished background, I couldn't cope with these challenges, which ultimately led me to return home," Zulu explained during a phone interview.

The Eastern Province primarily hosts four key schools offering a range of skills programmes, including carpentry, bricklaying, agriculture, plumbing, metal fabrication, and automotive mechanics. These schools include Chipata Trades Training Institute, Ukwimi Trades in Petauke, Zgangani Kachinga Youth Skills Centre in Lundazi, and Chikowa Skills Centre in Mambwe district.

Chipata Trades Training Institute enrolled the highest number of students under the CDF from various councils in the province, but a significant number of students have left the school for various reasons.

However, most pupils who were enrolled in 2023 using the 2022 CDF allocation left most of these schools and Chipata Trades has the highest number of students who have left the school for various reasons.

Councils respond

Chipata City Council Town Clerk, Aaron Kamalondo, expressed disappointment over the situation and announced plans to request refunds from Chipata Trades Training Institute and boarding schools for students who either left their studies or failed to report to school. He cited instances where the number of students who actually attended classes was significantly lower than those approved and paid for.

Kamalondo added that the council intended to use the remaining funds from schools and skills bursaries to buy over 4,000 desks at a cost of K2.4 million.

It's disheartening to note that, out of the 97 students sponsored by Chipata Central Constituency, only 36 were present in class, and in Luangeni, just 9 out of the 40 approved and funded students actually showed up at their respective schools," Kamalondo explained.

Chadiza Town Council Chairperson, Richard Zimba, revealed that out of the 99 sponsored students under the skills bursaries’ component in Chadiza, only 15 completed their courses, while others left school for various reasons, including accommodation challenges and a preference for rural life.

Hope for the future

Despite the challenges, Chipangali Member of Parliament, Andrew Lubusha, emphasised the continued demand for these skills training programmes in the district. He mentioned efforts to sensitise and encourage selected students to stay committed to their studies to prevent dropouts.

Authorities at Chipata Trades Training Institute have taken steps to address the accommodation issue by renting nearby houses for students. They have also advised councils to include additional requirements such as safety kits and accommodation in the payment for each student.

However, trade schools like Chipata Trades have declined to refund payments for students who left school on their own or failed to report.

Some youths who completed training under the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) bursary skills in the province have voiced concerns about the lack of support and empowerment from the government. These youths argue that their acquired skills will remain underutilized unless they receive capital and equal employment opportunities to apply their skills.

Memory Banda, who earned a certificate in construction from Chadiza district, has called on Chadiza Town Council to consider awarding her and others contracts for construction projects. Another youth, Tamara Banda, emphasised the need to provide machinery or start-up capital to graduates of skills training programs, enabling them to establish their own companies.