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Giving communities a voice

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By Dyson Mthawanji, Contributor:

KAMBWIRI—This has improved their participation

Amadu Mangani, 36, has been selling dry fish at Nthema Market in Traditional Authority (T/A) Dambe in Mchinji District since 2015.

The business has been progressing well since the demand for fish is high at this market which is located along the Kamwendo-Chinkhoma Road. Thus, she does not hesitate to pay K100 market fee every day when the market masters from Mchinji District Council approaches him.

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“I am a patriotic citizen. I know it is my responsibility to pay the market fee,” says Mangani.

Despite his patriotism and commitment, he has been ignorant on why the council collects this fee and how it uses the total collections.

On March 14, he tuned in to Mchinji-based Mudziwathu Community Radio on which he bumped into a one-hour live radio programme which detailed how Mchinji District Council uses the money.

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The programme featured Dambe Area Development Committee (ADC) Chairperson Jack Phiri, Mchinji District Council Chairperson Doston Kasonjole, Mchinji District Council Chairperson for Finance Kennedy Chipanga and Mchinji District Council Revenue Supervisor Fergus Kasonga.

The live radio programme was part of a project called ‘Public Resource Governance’ which Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) is implementing with funding from Oxfam.

The project aims at supporting Mchinji Civil Society Organisations Network to facilitate budget tracking for public projects in the district and supporting community interface meetings with decentralised structures in T/A Dambe on public resource management.

Mangani said he benefited from the radio programme as he learnt how the collected market fee is used.

For example, speaking in the programme, Kasonga said from the total market fee they collect, the council uses 25 percent for development projects at one of the district’s markets according to the choice of the councillors.

“This development rotates from one market to another. For example, the council has constructed a public toilet worth K1.5 million at Nthema Market. The council has also constructed five toilets in other markets,” Kasonga said.

Hearing this, Mangani said he will continue being a patriotic citizen by paying the market fee. However, some of his fellow business people at this market think otherwise; they do not pay the fee.

Kasonga complained that tax compliance is a challenge in Mchinji, hence the need for more civic education for business people to know their responsibility on this.

In Malawi, as in many sub- Saharan African countries, fees from open-air markets are one of the largest sources of direct tax revenue for local government.

However, tax compliance levels are low and the collection process is often corrupt, limiting the ability of local governments to fund key services. At the same time, market vendors are reluctant to pay fees until they see material benefits from their taxes, contributing to a vicious cycle of non-payment and poor government service delivery.

The Cisanet intervention aims at addressing both sides of the problem simultaneously – improving Mchinji District Council’s capacity to efficiently and transparently collect taxes and increasing taxpayers’ inclination to comply through better communication and improved market services.

The network’s Programmes Director, Alfred Kambwiri, said Cisanet conducted and facilitated this interactive meeting with community representatives including ADCs on policy and advocacy to build their capacity to hold duty-bearers responsible on economic governance.

“This has improved their participation in decision making processes including oversight functions on the implementation of public projects in their areas. The project has created a forum for the community interface meetings with decentralised structures in T/A Dambe on public resource management,” he said.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Number Nine seeks to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation.

It is envisaged that Malawi can achieve this goal when both business people and councils take their responsibility where businesses pay the market fee while the council delivers the needed services for smooth business operations at the market.

Like in many markets across the country, business people at Nthema Market rarely trust council officials.

“I don’t trust them. I think they are there to exploit us. Where does our money through market fees go?” a vendor, who spoke on condition of anonymity at Nthema Market, said.

To negate this perception, Mchinji District Council publishes a report that provide details on how much they have collected and how they have spent for market improvement using the 25 percent of the total collected revenue.

Furthermore, the councilors take the information to ADCs who forward it to the people at grass roots.

Mchinji District Council has also started using e-ticketing. The new system makes it easy to know how much the market masters have collected on a particular day. But there is another big problem which the council is failing to fight.

“People pay K50 instead of K100 so that they should not receive the ticket from our market masters. I must admit that this is still a big challenge. We want to do head count of all businesses in our markets so that we can have a good estimation of the money we can collect in one day,” Kasonga said.

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