By Imam Wali & Richard Chirombo:
Transparency is the lifeblood of democracy, so they say.
But, according to University of Malawi political scientist, George Thindwa, transparency on its own is nothing— it is like a static vehicle, actually—and needs fuel called citizens’ participation in activities to tick.
“Democracy flourishes where citizens are actively participating in national development efforts, including activities that define a nation’s destiny, notably voting. Participation in national activities fuels a sense of ownership,” he says.
It is a point People’s Federation for National Peace and Development Executive Director, Edward Chaka, buttressed recently, when, this month, he trained community members in Paramount Chief Lundu’s area in Chikwawa District in areas such as citizens’ participation in democracy, the role of citizens in community development, the State’s responsibility over citizens, among other areas.
“It is sad that, in this age of democracy, some community members leave everything in the hands of traditional leaders and public leaders, who are still revered, almost worshipped, in some areas, thereby turning people into passive citizens.Advertisement
“In an ideal situation, a chief’s subjects and citizens are to be treated as active contributors to national development efforts. This cannot be done if traditional leaders keep their subjects in a state of fear or exclude them from development structures. That is why we are here, in Chikwawa District. We want traditional leaders and their subjects as well as public leaders and the citizenry at large to develop a mutual relationship for the country to meet its socio-economic goals,” Chaka says.
If citizens are excluded from national development efforts, Chaka says, poverty levels— which Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 of the United Nations (UN) obliges member states to tackle— escalate.
According to the UN, “While extreme poverty has eased considerably since 1990, pockets of the worst forms of poverty persist. Ending poverty requires universal social protection systems aimed at safeguarding all individuals throughout the life cycle. It also requires targeted measures to reduce vulnerability to disasters and to address specific underserved geographic areas within each country”.
It further indicates that the rate of extreme poverty has fallen rapidly.
“The latest global estimate suggests that 11 percent of the world population, or 783 million people, lived below the extreme poverty threshold in 2013,” reads SDG Report for 2018.
President Peter Mutharika said in Dedza District on Tuesday that reducing poverty levels was one of his priorities, further indicating that he has made transparency the hallmark of his rule, meaning that he is ready to become the subject of public scrutiny.
The country seems to be ready for that role, for, over the years, projects aimed at promoting accountability have been implemented.
For instance, the country implemented the Financial Management, Transparency, and Accountability Project to promote effective and accountable use of public resources. One of its components is citizens’ participation in national development efforts.
Bodies such as Malawi Public Service Reform Commission were also instituted to ensure that transparency and effectiveness turn from dreams to reality in Malawi, supported by the Malawi National Public Sector Reforms Policy (2018-22).
However, just when Malawians thought transparency and citizens’ participation in development efforts were becoming part of the national psyche, it turns out that the train-of-active-citizenship has been moving too fast for some ‘slow’ citizens.
Just imagine, community members in Chongoni Ward, Dedza District, have not had a village development committee (VDCs) for ages, a development that has left them starved of development projects that would have transformed their lives.
One of the affected areas, according to one of the community members Alexander Makono, is that of education.
“Our children have been lacking the necessary structures to propel development initiatives in our area,” he says, citing challenges that have cropped up due to the poor state of roads, bridges and school infrastructure.
Fortunately, community members have risen from their deep slumber to form VDC.
Head teacher at Hinda Primary School, in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kaphuka, Lenato Chipwayira, is the VDC Secretary.
He says challenges that used to negatively affect school-going children have become part of the past.
“In the past, community members here were facing a number of challenges due to the absence of a village development committee. During that period, things were not working well. For example, the school lacked teachers’ houses, classroom blocks and potable water. The challenge of access to water also negatively affected community members, who were relying on the school’s well.
“Furthermore, the roads were in bad shape, especially during the rainy season,” he said
He says, now that VDC is alive, community members have to rise up and hold the bull by the horns.
Group Village Head Dzololo is ecstatic.
“I am happy with the development. Establishing a VDC means some of the challenges we were facing will be solved and we will contribute fully to community development efforts,” he says.
He is not the only one hoping for the best. Chongoni Ward Councillor, Boniface Dannie, also hopes that the presence of a VDC will play a critical role in fostering development projects in the area.
“The VDC has come at the right time considering that we did not have it for a long time. This will help us ensure that we, as councillors, meet the aspirations of the people we represent.
“This can only be done if community members are articulating their vision for the area through a well-structured platform such as VDC,” Dannie says.
One only hopes that policies developed at central government level will not take as long as they took to touch base in Dzololo Village.
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