Voila! The highly anticipated 2020 is finally here and I am assuming that all of us have hit the ground running. Let us face it; we (meaning Malawians) have wasted so much time pursuing mundane issues over the past few years (and 2019 was no exception) while folks elsewhere have been pursuing meaningful development and change. So I am hoping we are walking the talk in 2020; no more daydreaming and drooling while neighbouring countries keep registering remarkable progress.
Now, one thing we certainly do not need this year are greedy politicians or those claiming to serve the interests of the public but once they are ushered in office, they quickly change colours like a chameleon. As we have turned the chapter, It is my hope that there will be no looting and plundering of magnanimous proportions of public coffers, like we witnessed the past decade.
But I am now very skeptical if, at all, we are going to meet that aspiration. Take, for example, the behaviour exhibited by some of our ward councillors this past week, which evoked some emotions all around. We are told these councillors would want the government to give them a staggering 200 percent pay hike. Their argument is that they do all the donkey work while members of Parliament and cabinet ministers get to enjoy the limelight and all the credit. They went on further to claim that while their MP colleagues enjoy hefty packages, they, on the other hand, are saddled with huge bills which their ‘peanut’ take-home cheque is not enough to take care of.
If you ask me, I would say it is simply a question of who the bigger ‘crook’ is between most of these ‘honourable’ MPs and their councillor folk. How many times have we heard desperate voices from the communities, complaining over unfinished road construction projects, school blocks and health centres, or better yet, mismanagement of financial resources at both constituency and council level? And yet we have both the councillors and MPs deep in the mix and now one wants to make us believe they are doing more work than the other; please, give me a break!
Surprisingly, if you take a walk mumakwalalamu (in the neighbourhoods) you will see a lot of filth; uncollected garbage, broken sewers, filthy markets, health centres lacking essential drugs and yet we have elected representatives at local government level who are doing nothing and yet want to have their perks increased; just so they can catch up with their MP folk… utter nonsense!
What Malawians want to see in this year, 2020, is elected duty bearers earning their keep. Being elected to public office should not be perceived as a gravy train whereby elected office bearers will laugh all the way to the bank at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. Servant leadership should not only apply through lip service but deeds must show on the ground.
We have all embraced the return of councillors after their long hiatus but that does not mean that they have carte blanche. They have to, first of all, prove to all and sundry that they mean business and are ready to initiate meaningful projects in their areas and not just be inundating capital hill with calls about motorcycle loans.
On the other hand, I do not wish to come across as being judgmental or watering down the concerns being raised by the concerned councillors whom the authorities simply dismissed as ‘misguided’ individuals. Perhaps those who revitalised the councillor concept needed to take time to consider carefully how the councillors would go about dedicating themselves fully to their work if they did not have a substantial sum in their pockets; something in line with the changing cost of living. Surely, if the councillors are indeed being used as beast of burden by their MP folk then they deserve consideration. I was prompted to look at the issue from a whole different perspective after reading the comments by Malawi Local Government Association (Malga), admitting that they have been looking into the same matter for a while now (In other words, the concerns by this ‘misguided’ faction are legitimate?).
Something is not adding up here and if this issue is not quickly resolved, the electorate will continue getting mediocre service from the councillors; but then, do we have money lying around? Where in the world have you heard people demanding that their take-home pay be increased from K150, 000 to K350, 000 overnight? We are told if all the demands the ‘misguided’ councillors are demanding are met, then the wage bill at capital hill will sour from K46.2 million to a staggering K161.7 million.
My simple advice to everyone is that let us all be resolute in demanding quality service from those holding public office and their respective entities, As for the councillors, what they are demanding is a non-starter.
Otherwise, have a fulfilling and trouble free 2020 butmost importantly, chart your own oath in the course of their year.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).