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Confusion still rocks councils

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There is continued animosity between elected representatives and council officials in some district councils which is threatening to derail government operations at district level, Malawi News has learnt.

The squabbles, which have been a regular feature since the election of ward councillors during the 2014 Tripartite Elections, have exposed power struggles between elected representatives and civil servants.

A random survey indicates that in some district councils, councillors and council officials are still at loggerheads.

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Some of the councils where development is at risk, courtesy of such infighting, are Machinga, Nkhotakota, Chikwawa, Chiradzulu and Blantyre.

This week, councillors in Machinga threatened to throw out all directors at the council on grounds of underperformance, the council’s chairperson Tailosi Bakili confirmed the development.

“Of course, as councillors we have not been satisfied with the way some of these officials are carrying out their duties. For that reason we resolved to ask the ministry to transfer them but after discussions we have shelved those plans,” he said.

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A leaked memorandum, signed by District Commissioner, Reginald Chavula, indicated that councillors were not happy with the way the directors were handling issues, among others, information that parliamentarians and councilors submit, which they alleged, is not submitted to ministry headquarters.

Other issues bordered on allegations of the disappearance of cash amounting to K66 million which is said to have been put into a personal account of a council official.

The councillors expressed dissatisfaction over the way the district hospital is being run especially on the issue of diet and failure by council officials to take heed of councillors’ advice.

District Commissioner Chavula on Thursday admitted having called for a Human Resource Committee meeting on June 15 to resolve some of the issues that the councillors raised.

“Indeed the meeting discussed the issues that you heard but it was observed that some of the issues did not concern the current directors. For example, the issue of the money that is said to have disappeared happened in 2012 before most of the directors were posted here. As such, the meeting dwelt much on the (directors) performance,” she said.

Chavula said the meeting referred the K66 million issue to the finance department.

She added that the directors were warned to improve their performance or risk disciplinary action.

However, Chavula dismissed assertions that things were going astray in her council due to insubordination by some staff members.

“I have also heard those romours and I took advantage of the meeting to address them. I know these are coming from people who underrate me because I am a woman. I am in control and my directors respect me,” said Chavula.

Bakili, on the other hand, said as elected representatives, they have backed down for now but they will not be closing their eyes.

“What we are saying is that for now we are giving them an opportunity to correct their mistakes but we are watching. If it happens again we will take action,” he said.

According to reports from Nkhotakota, councillors have also petitioned the ministry to remove council directors for their alleged involvement in illegal land sales.

Councillors have ganged up against council officials on allegations that the officials dubiously sold land that was previously Nkhotakota airfield.

The ministry is said to be considering their request.

In Chikwawa District Council, the source of antagonism has been the administration of disaster funds which have pitied the two sides throwing missiles at each other at the expense of local development.

Indicators show that there is apparent lack of harmony between elected representatives and council officials due to lack of defined roles for both sides. Some officials are also refusing to give councillors full rights to perform their duties.

Spokesperson for Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Muhlabase Mughogho, confirmed the issues but indicated that there was need to give a comprehensive answer to our questionnaire.

“These issues are complex and we need to give you responses based on specific cases which we do not have as of now. We will come back to you soon,” she said.

Efforts to talk to the local government minister, Trasizio Gowelo, proved futile as he was said to be outside the country together with Principal Secretary Chris Kang’ombe.

The Ministry of Local Government has received bad publicity in the recent past following wrangles in various councils mostly where government had controversially demoted some DCs, inviting sporadic legal battles that are yet to be settled.

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