Reflecting on Malawi’s local governance, decentralisation
After nine years without councillors, in May 2014 Malawians went to the polls and elected President, members of Parliament (MPs) and councillors in the quest of attaining a full house through decentralization.
Decentralisation is the process of redistributing or dispensing decision-making power from national authority to local authority and has been described by political scientists as an ideal form of governance since it increases government’s efficiency and responsiveness through use of local representatives.
Elsewhere, the general feeling is that Malawi was not prepared for the huge shift; reports indicate that councillors’ presence in the councils has received mixed reactions.
In the face of such developments, the year 2015 was the year of battles for visibility and supremacy among councillors, MPs and council secretariats with some cases getting so ugly with District Commissioners (DCs) being locked out of offices and paraded on streets all in protest against their management styles.
Councillors fight council secretariats
Some of the headlines in 2015 were for the wrong reasons due to the infighting and DCs were mostly the centre of controversy.
In August, a full council meeting in Karonga, led by Chairperson Patrick Kishombe, was convened and agreed to have District Commissioner Rosemary Moyo removed on allegations that she failed to account for K40 million meant for primary schools and for general underperformance.
The decision was arrived at barely a week after irate workers had sealed her office in protest against delayed salaries and poor conditions of service.
Kishombe said in one of the interviews: “Karonga is a crippled council, money goes missing anytime and anyhow… Service delivery has been very poor since Moyo took office and as a Council we have resolved that it is better to have her out.”
But some inside sources, however, said the tensions were engineered by some chiefs and politicians who did not like Moyo’s stance on financial prudence and management such that councillors and the workers were conduits in the plot against her.
In one of his interviews, leader of a grouping dubbed Karonga’s concerned ,citizens, Steven Simsokwe accused councillors of fuelling fraud and corruption because of their evil preconceived ideas that with decentralisation council money should be at anyone’s disposal.
Moyo, however stood her ground and insisted she was innocent by taking a court order against all parties that revolted against her.
Dowa District Commissioner Funny Msimuko did not have an easy ride either. In September council members voted for her departure in presence of ministry officials on grounds that she operated from Lilongwe, thereby blowing more council resources in fuel and driver’s allowances.
Council Chairperson, Martin Luka, said development work was suffering in the district due to Msimuko’s absence.
Moreover disgruntled councillors in Chitipa who in March penned the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development to remove District Commissioner Grace Chirwa for alleged incompetence and that she had diverted money meant for Constituency Development Fund to some undisclosed projects.
The Mzuzu City Council (MCC) also had its fair share of the in-house wrangles in the year just gone by.
The Council was rocked with problems on separation of power and responsibilities between the office of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and that of the mayor which later translated into a sour working relationship between the two and their respective juniors.
Mayor William Mkandawire had problems with some members of the secretariat who he said undermined his authority and the council as a whole through their tendency of overruling the council’s decisions without proper communication and consultation.
For instance in November this year, Mkandawire threatened to leave office until he was furnished with explanation and apology on who decided to hire out the council’s only grader after the councillors resolved against the move so that the machine is used for grading a number of roads under the K15 million roads’ project which had stalled.
The council secretariat was also accused of blowing about K1 billion meant for rehabilitating roads in the city.
But new CEO Macloud Kadammanja in one of the interviews said the bad blood between the two groups would soon be a thing of the past as he embarked on necessary steps of reconciliation and forgiveness.
Councillors tussle with MPs
Prior to the tripartite election good governance advocates stressed on the complementary roles and responsibilities of MPs and councillors.
But despite the sensitisation MPs and Councillors are failing to co-exist meaningfully for the sake of the electorate more especially when from different political parties.
Whilst, councillors have oftentimes accused the legislators of stocking conflict by making decisions without consultation, MPs have hit back that they are not their keepers and that they abide by legislations.
For instance, recently, Mzuzu City Mayor Councillor Mkandawire accused MP Leonard Njikho of bringing confusion to the city by encouraging chiefs to carry out duties which is contrary to the Local Government Act which does not recognise them.
But Njikho insisted that the town chiefs have the right to claim their chieftaincy and exercise their roles claiming it is their birthright.
Chancellor College commentator Boniface Dulani said scenarios such as the ones cited above are a question of who has authority and lack of understanding of the decentralization policy and Local Government Act by concerned parties.
Dulani warned that should the battles rage on, they will largely undermine the country’s progress, saying there is need for a cordial relationship between councillors who are policymakers and the secretariats which represent the Executive arm of government to implement the policies.
“Whilst the two are supposed to work hand in hand, oftentimes they have crossed each other’s lines and that shouldn’t be allowed to continue,” said Dulani. On councilors and MPs, Dulani said the problem emanates from political alienation.
As the year draws to a close it is time to reflect, if the 2015 events are anything to go by it is obvious that as a country we have fared badly in terms of local governance and decentralisation.
The line ministry has not been vigilant enough in addressing most of the problems by finding lasting solutions to the tensions.
The ministry through its spokesperson Mulhabase Mughogo and Principal Secretary Chris Kang’ombe most of the times gave out vague statements on how they intended to address the ongoing tensions in respective district councils.
Going forward to 2016, Malawians being loyal tax-payers that they are should be spared of the drama because they deserve responsible and committed leadership at all levels that can bail them out from the stinging poverty that they are currently suffering.
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