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Sidelining citizens from public finance issues

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MHLANGA—The road defines our life

The deteriorating condition of the 55-kilometre road between Mqocha Border and Jenda is a cause for worry for community members in Mlumuzana Kapopo Mhlanga Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) M’mbelwa, in Mzimba.

The road has not been paved for the last 13 years and Mhlanga fears that if the government does not give it attention anytime soon, his subjects are doomed to die.

“This road defines our life in all aspects. In terms of healthcare, this is the only road we use to take us either to Embangweni Mission Hospital or Jenda Health Centre because we don’t have any health facility in this area,” he said.

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Nkhunga, Kapopo Mhlanga, Zebera, Malaya, Mtuzuzu and Mzoma are some of the villages in Mzimba Southwest Constituency which have not tasted any public development for the past 10 years.

This is despite that, in 2017, M’mbelwa District Council developed a five-year district development plan (DDP), which highlighted agriculture, water development and climate change, education and skills development, security, youth unemployment, energy, forestry, tourism development, transport infrastructure, health and population as priority areas for the district.

Stakeholders such as ward councillors, members of Parliament (MPs) as well as traditional and faith leaders, described the plan as a milestone in the development of the district.

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Former vice-president Khumbo Kachali, who was legislator for Mzimba Southwest Constituency at the time of the formulation of the plan and was part of the whole process, said: “With this plan, Mzimba will develop.”

On the other hand, the then director of planning and development (DPD), Precious Kamtsitsi, said the plan had the potential to reduce poverty, the rate of which was at 60 percent in the district.

He urged people to support the plan, which would help the council generate enough revenue.

“We acknowledge that there are many challenges faced by the council such as water shortage, food insecurity, low education standards, diseases and poor road infrastructure. Using the plan, we will be eradicating most of the challenges,” Kamtsitsi said.

However, with only a few months left before the expiry of the plan, the council is yet to register an inch in terms of the development of the district.

Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) National Governance Programmes Coordinator, George Chiusiwa, suspected that M’mbelwa District Council did not involve citizens in both public finance management (PFM) and implementation of the plan.

Global development experts identify PFM as a fundamental for effective resource management and the backbone for effective and efficient public service delivery. The PFM Act of 2003 aims to foster and enhance effective and responsible economic and financial management by government, including adherence to policy objectives and to provide accompanying accountability arrangements together with compliance with those arrangements.

However, Chiusiwa observed that continued sidelining of ordinary citizens in budget formulation and implementation remains a “big cancer for all the councils where public officers deliberately sideline citizens in PFM and implementation of development projects so that they can steal public money”.

“PFM encompasses the mechanisms through which public resources are collected, allocated, spent and accounted for. As such, PFM processes comprise the whole budget cycle, public procurement, audit practices and revenue collection,” he said.

He made the sentiments on Wednesday in Mangochi during training for councillors and MPs in the Voices and Actions for Accountabilities in Malawi (Vaam) Project.

Vaam is a three-year project being financed by Hivos and is being implemented in Blantyre, Dowa, Mangochi, Ntcheu, Mzimba, Mzuzu and Zomba.

Chiusiwa said sound, transparent and accountable PFM is a key pillar of governance reform and of vital importance to provide public services of quality.

He said sidelining citizens in PFM breeds a favourable ground for corruption, maladministration and poor accountability in the public service; hence, DDPs cannot deliver their intended services.

Recently, the Malawi Government developed a Public Sector Reforms (PSR) Programme to improve management of resources for responsive service delivery.

At the centre of the programme is the need to ensure citizen involvement thereby improving delivery of social services. This calls for enhanced, sound and effective citizen engagement at all levels of local development and service delivery.

In order to enhance citizen engagement and foster positive and self-reinforcing cycles of institutional reforms in local councils, PSR and Malawi 2063 agenda has a citizen engagement component to ensure that the citizenry is actively engaged in activities of councils.

However, it would appear officials in the councils are not ready to embrace the changes.

Just like Kapopo Mhlanga in Mzimba, councillor for Nkope Ward in Mangochi, Ali Wilson Muhammad, complained that officials at the council do not involve ordinary citizens in the formulation and implementation of development projects.

In fact, Muhammed disclosed that elected officers are not given a chance at Mangochi Municipal Council to participate in the process of budget formulation.

“Our council secretariat has been implementing a number of development projects without involving councillors, MPs and residents, themselves. They are doing literally everything on their own. There is no involvement of the people they serve,” said Muhammad, who is also vice chairperson for the council.

Mangochi Nkungulu lawmaker Aisha Adams Mambo shared Muhammad’s concerns, adding that councils in Malawi are acting secretively in their operations, including in the formulation of budgets.

Mambo, who is also Second Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, said this denies citizens their right to outline development priorities.

Officials that represented Mangochi District Council refused to comment on the matter.

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