By Watipaso Mzungu
Founding Executive Director for the National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) Public Trust, Ollen Mwalubunju, has disclosed that he is content with the effort and contribution he made to the establishment and growth of the institution.
Mwalubunju bade farewell to NICE Public Trust on June 30, 2022, after serving the institution for nine years.
The revered human rights and civic education expert, who also served as the founding Executive Director at the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) said in an interview on Monday that he leaves the Trust as a happy man because of the remarkable achievements that the organization has made under his leadership since 2013 when he joined the Trust.
He cited two successive strategic plans whose implementation “saw the so many achievements.”
“A third strategic plan was launched in March 2022 with about K15 billion budget which is being implemented while resource mobilization drive is underway. But, most importantly, in my nine years’ service at NICE, a mission has been accomplished, that is, to make the Trust a sustainable organization beyond program funding dependence for its overall existence,” he said.
NICE was registered as a Trust in 2012 thereby becoming an independent and autonomous institution.
However, it largely existed as a project because it depended on program funding until in 2019, when a landmark breakthrough was achieved when NICE successfully lobbied for a government subvention.
An annual funding of about K500 million was granted, meaning effectively putting the responsibility of financing the activities of the Trust on the Malawi Government (National Budget).
This also means that funding will be available to NICE as any other government recipient as long as taxpayers exist in Malawi.
During Mwalubunju’s tenure, NICE lobbied for an increased funding from about K 500 million to K1.3 billion from the financial year 2022/23 to enable it play an instrumental role in the implementation of the Malawi 2063’s mindset enabler under the coordination of the Ministry of National Unity.
In line with the subvention, NICE is underway finalizing constituting itself as an institution in line with the sustainability drive.
It will have staff recruited based on its own condition of services rather than funding project based agreements as a project has a “life span of starting and ending.” But, this will ensure that NICE exists as a permanent organization.
The reconstituting process has been built on a successful implementation of a functional review that NICE initiated some few years ago with various recommendations that have been implemented including this one.
Alongside the success of being granted a subvention, NICE also successfully lobbied government to support for its sustainability project of the establishment of the National Civic Education Multipurpose Centre of about K10 billion with government’s commitment of about 1 billion for its contribution towards the five years project under the development budget through the Public Sector Implementation Program (PSIP).
This project’s intention is that NICE should have a building of its own and land has already been secured along Airport Road.
Mwalubunju said once this ambitious project is finalized, it will house NICE offices, a governance training centre, a radio station, a business wing and a governance monitoring platform, and excess spare for rentals.
In operationalization of the concept of the Multi-Civic Education Centre concept as the resources for the building are being mobilized, NICE is underway establishing a Governance Training Centre that intends to contribute towards good governance capacity building for the supply side of governance for improved service delivery, while main its core business of the demand side of governance (civic education to the public).
Also, NICE is underway establishing its radio station as well as a business wing that will identify business potentials including opportunities of outsourcing civic education to both public and private sectors at a fee.
Furthermore, NICE is finalizing the establishment of a Government Monitoring Platform with technical support of mHub-an ICT firm, and the platform will act as an early warning and intervention system support to government for services delivery monitoring by providing real time information.
The NICE 9,000 volunteers countrywide will feed information into the control Centre at its head office in Lilongwe that will house various experts to process the information for usability. A similar mechanism called the “Election Situation” was very critical to the Malawi Election Commission during the 2014 and 2019 general elections for early warning detection and intervention.
Alongside this, NICE is equipping its district resource centres with ICT equipment that will facilitate information delivery, access and feedback on critical policy issues including live coverage of Parliamentary debates through the Parliament’s Television.
In line with the subvention, more importantly, NICE is underway finalizing constituting itself as an institution in line with the sustainability drive. It will have staff recruited based on its own condition of services rather than funding project based agreements as a project has a “life span of starting and ending.”
Mwalubunju stated that this will ensure that NICE exists as a permanent organization.
“The reconstituting process has been built on a successful implementation of a functional review that NICE initiated some few years ago with various recommendations that have been implemented, including this one. Widening the sustainability drive, NICE lobbied for the re-establishment of civics in schools, a project it is jointly working with the Domasi College of Education and the Malawi Institute for civic education.
“NICE also assisted government financially and technically to develop a civic education policy that is now being implemented. This will facilitate effective coordination and collaboration, and reduce duplication of efforts by creating synergies. Above all, over the years NICE has enhanced its reputation and good image as a leader in democratic governance sector as a household name country wide while maintaining its grassroots visibility as the third largest institution in the country in terms of extension service after government and the faith based organizations,” he said.
However, the civic educationist acknowledged that despite achievements made, there were some challenges along the way.
Mwalubunju cited lack of appreciating NICE identity as well as its independent being a recipient of government funding, a compromised corporate governance system, over dependence of one major funder, donor fatigue and competition for funding and, perception that NICE is a voter education (which is not, it’s a civic education) among others. The Trust has put in place mechanisms to address these challenges.
“This notwithstanding, I feel proud of accomplishing my mission of making the Trust a sustainable organization. I urge the new Board that was constituted on 30th May, 2022, to take on the mantle where he has left to bring NICE even to a greater height. He has confidence in the new Board that it will successfully build on the many initiatives and success to the high expectation of Malawians for its delivery,” he said.