Ollen Mwalubunju bids farewell to NICE Trust after 9 years of service
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 he leaves the Trust a happy man
Malawi: Ollen Mwalubunju, the founding Executive Director of the National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) Public Trust, has stated that he is pleased with the effort and contribution he made to the establishment and growth of the institution, writes Watipaso Mzungu.
Mwalubunju retired from NICE Public Trust on June 30, 2022, after nine years of service.
In an interview on Monday, 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 he leaves the Trust 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 consecutive strategic plans, the implementation of which "saw so many achievements."
"A third strategic plan was launched in March 2022 with a budget of approximately K15 billion, which is currently being implemented while a resource mobilisation drive is underway. But, most importantly, in my nine years at NICE, I have completed a mission: to make the Trust a sustainable organisation independent of programme funding for its overall survival," he said.
NICE became an independent and autonomous institution after it was registered as a Trust in 2012.
However, it largely existed as a project because it was dependent on programme funding until 2019, when a watershed moment occurred when NICE successfully lobbied for a government subsidy.
An annual funding of approximately K500 million was granted, effectively putting the Malawi Government in charge of financing the Trust's activities (National Budget).
This also means that NICE will have access to funding just like any other government recipient for as long as taxpayers exist in Malawi.
During Mwalubunju's tenure, NICE lobbied for an increase in funding from approximately K 500 million to K1.3 billion beginning with the fiscal year 2022/23 to allow it to play an important role in the implementation of Malawi 2063's mindset enabler under the coordination of the Ministry of National Unity.
In accordance with the subvention, NICE is in the process of finalising its establishment as an institution in accordance with the sustainability drive.
Because a project has a "life span of starting and ending," it will hire staff based on its own conditions of services rather than funding project-based agreements. However, this will ensure that NICE remains a permanent organisation.
The reconstitution process is based on the successful implementation of a functional review that NICE initiated a few years ago, with various recommendations, including this one, that have been implemented.
Along with being granted a subvention, NICE successfully lobbied government to support its sustainability project of establishing the National Civic Education Multipurpose Centre of approximately K10 billion, with government commitment of approximately 1 billion for its contribution towards the five-year project under the development budget through the Public Sector Implementation Program (PSIP).
The goal of this project is for NICE to have its own building, and land along Airport Road has already been secured.
Mwalubunju stated that once completed, this ambitious project will house NICE offices, a governance training centre, a radio station, a business wing, and a governance monitoring platform, as well as excess spare for rentals.
As the resources for the building are mobilised, NICE is in the process of establishing a Governance Training Centre that will contribute to good governance capacity building for the supply side of governance for improved service delivery, while continuing to focus on its core business of the demand side of governance (civic education to the public).
In addition, NICE is in the process of establishing a radio station as well as a business wing that will identify business opportunities, such as opportunities to outsource civic education to both the public and private sectors for a fee.
Furthermore, NICE is nearing completion of the establishment of a Government Monitoring Platform with technical assistance from mHub, an ICT firm, and the platform will serve as an early warning and intervention system support to the government for monitoring service delivery by providing real-time information.
The NICE 9,000 volunteers across the country will feed data into the control Centre at its head office in Lilongwe, which will house various experts to process the data for usability. During the 2014 and 2019 general elections, the Malawi Election Commission relied heavily on a similar mechanism known as the "Election Situation" for early warning detection and intervention.
In addition, NICE is equipping its district resource centres with ICT equipment to improve information delivery, access, and feedback on critical policy issues, such as live coverage of Parliamentary debates via Parliament Television.
In accordance with the subvention, and more importantly, NICE is in the process of finalising its establishment as an institution in accordance with the sustainability drive.
Because a project has a "life span of starting and ending," it will hire staff based on its own conditions of services rather than funding project-based agreements.
Mwalubunju stated that this will ensure the continued existence of NICE.
He said: "The process of reconstituting has been built on the successful implementation of a functional review that NICE initiated a few years ago with various recommendations that have been implemented, including this one." NICE lobbied for the re-establishment of civics in schools, a project on which it is collaborating with the Domasi College of Education and the Malawi Institute for Civic Education.
"NICE also provided financial and technical assistance to the government in developing a civic education policy, which is now being implemented. This will allow for more effective coordination and collaboration while also reducing duplication of efforts through the creation of synergies. Above all, over the years, NICE has enhanced its reputation and good image as a leader in the democratic governance sector as a household name throughout the country, while maintaining its grassroots visibility as the country's third largest institution in terms of extension service after the government and faith-based organisations."
However, the civic educationist acknowledged that, despite accomplishments, there were some difficulties along the way.
Mwalubunju cited, among other things, a lack of appreciation for NICE's identity as a recipient of government funding, a compromised corporate governance system, overdependence on one major funder, donor fatigue and competition for funding, and the perception that NICE is a voter education (which it is not; it is a civic education).
The Trust has put in place mechanisms to deal with these issues.
"Despite this, I am proud of having completed my mission of making the Trust a sustainable organisation." I urge the new Board, which was formed on May 30, 2022, to pick up where he left off and take NICE to new heights. He believes the new Board will successfully build on the many initiatives and meet the high expectations of Malawians for its delivery," he said.