Clash of jurisdictions in Malawi: MPs and Ward Councillors

We have a crisis situation in our country – the clash of jurisdictions, a feud between Members of Parliament and Ward Councillors. The Local Government Act affirmed the need for Ward Councillors, which created pressure for the election of Ward Councillors – hence the tripartite elections of May 20, 2014.

Dan Msowoya

Dan Msowoya

But why the clash when there is the enabling legal framework in place? Some have attributed this to chauvinism and self interest on the part of Members of Parliament, coupled with an apparent ambiguity of roles between the two blocks of elected representatives. And this has become a national demon! This is aided and abated by and large by a laissez faire attitude of our society.

There is a persistent fear in our people to think aloud, even with the favourable structure of our Constitution to exercise their natural and constitutional rights to demand that essential services be effectively delivered; instead of wallowing in the false characterisation of being peaceful and while moaning and groaning over poor health services, lack of rural electrification, portable water, etc in the rural areas.. The harsh reality is we are a docile society, and we can’t continue that way.

Civic education is the necessary antidote for this docility; let the people be educated and edified on situations that apply to them most personally and directly, such as this one.

I want to pronounce myself to the controversial relationship between Members of Parliament and Ward Councillors. I have observed the fact that both of these politicians were concurrently elected by universal suffrage. However members of Parliament enjoy more autonomy than their counterparts the ward Councillors. Members of Parliament do not report to the Executive like the ward Councillors are, subjected to a Ministry of Local Government: Why should that be, especially that the Councillors are encumbered with an arguably huge burden of developmental demand in their wards? MPs have been in this current governance structure confined to a legislative role. This should therefore entail more legislative pressure from Councillors in terms enactments that should enable Councillors fund their rural development programs.

In my view, for this to be achieved, the Ward Councillors need their own national Chamber where they can (nationally) collectively develop a national development agenda as far as rural areas are concerned, and synchronize the bylaws so that they apply in their jurisdictions equally; especially where they cut across cultural and traditional values and principles, to eliminate erroneous practices and consolidate encourage those cultural and traditional practices which generate dignity of the people and contribute to the integrity of our society.

For instance, if some Ward councillors wish to build community Libraries in their Wards and the idea appealed to other Councillors, it is significant in civic and political senses that this consensus is adopted in a harmonious and collective manner by all Councillors. There are contradictions which need to be highlighted to illustrate inconsistencies arising as a result of lack of consensus:

In Mzuzu for instance, a Police Officer in Charge decided to vary the Highway Code by ordering bicycle taxi operators to ride on the right hand side of the road, while those at Mponela ride on the left. In addition there is a ban of the bicycle taxis from entering Mzuzu City centre, but allow motor cycle taxis to operate in Mzuzu City centre. This equally violates the right of the clientele to choose the mode of transport affordable to them, and is also discriminatory in nature. This is not the case in Mponela. Why must this inconsistency in the application of the law ever exist?

How about street vendors, against a Constitutional proviso that grants the right for a citizen to conduct economic activities, and where there is need to provide space for such activities let it be provided; otherwise the barbaric prohibitions that are under way amount to harassment as well as violations of the right under the Constitution. Which also means if such a bylaw as this exists is inconsistent with the Constitution, and therefore must stand down.

These scenarios are not the only ones by any means, but are a sample of how our various jurisdictions may present nightmares and how they can addressed if these elected representatives were to sit together in the same place and at the same time and harmonise these regulatory instruments.

This national Assembly for the Councillors would grant them autonomy as an antidote for the feud between them and MPs. No amount of training in my opinion, which may be given to Local Councillors, will end the colossal contest for supremacy between the two camps. Councillors feel subjugated by MPs which they resent. The training may edify them in some aspects, but ultimately it is does not change anything to retain Local Councillors under the whim of a Minister who is also a Member of Parliament. Technically it is impossible to feel free when you are under a yoke or wearing a chain.

The current set up for ward Councillors constrains the notion or principle of self determination as is intended by the decentralisation Act. As things stand currently freedom of conscience, creativity and generation of ideas in the rural communities which is necessary for the promotion of active participation of constituents will be deterred to a great extent.

It is in the context of this conceit and chauvinism and others reasons that may emerge that I strongly propose the creation of a second, separate National Assembly for Ward Councillors; we may call it a House of Representatives, that will work in conjunction with Parliament in implementing development programs particularly in the rural areas where the mandate of ward Councillors rests.

Further this would diminish the exodus even of ward Councillors to the so called ruling party, all in the “kindergarten” thinking that development in the wards would come quickly. I guarantee you each group will feel significant and important. These groups will relate more positively as colleagues rather than one group continually subordinating the other and the other thrusting back in a counter move.

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Mr. Msowoya, please keep your mouth shut if you have nothing to say! Councillors are “local” representatives, to articulate local issues relevant to that district or ward. That is why they are called Ward Councillors. Your suggestion that a “national” forum is needed goes to the very core of your ignorance on local governance issues. Councillors should have their own district assembly. One hopes that the structure we have allows for council debates, presided over by a “speaker” based on the local government act. They articulate local aspirations and their issues should essentially be captured in an Local Integrated Development… Read more »

the wrangle between mps and councillors was initially latent but now it is open and strong. job description for each block should be spelt out clearly. district development funds should be channelled through councillors and not mps


Let the Councilors have the mandate to deal with their issues at District Assembly. Let them each have their budgets allocated for these are the people through which we will see development in our villages not MPs.
I could have liked to see a Mayor and District Council Managers to collectively manage the wards.
If we strengthen this model, why would we need Federal Government? I think we have it already.

Bodza la n'nanu

Activities funded by the councils(local authorities) let the councillor take on lead on those. Indeed there are the national laws, however bylaws such as those of city markets, vendors, rubbish collection, taxis may differ from one city to another, and even from one town or district to another. Mps should concentrate on central government issues and councillors on local authority issues. As a result, there be any conflicts and citizen will also oblige

Green grass

How are you Dan? Nice to hear from you.

No need for second chamber, the district assemblies are for councillors. The problem is that local development money should be controlled by the district assemblies and not by an mp as it is at the moment. There is absolutely no need for mps to control constituency development fund, that should be given to local district assemblies to control it. The govt need to lead on this and clarify the issues to avoid unnecessary conflicts between mps and councillors. Otherwise what is the point of having councillors if they can’t have a say on how development money for their areas is… Read more »
I personally do not see the need for a national assembly for ward councillors otherwise it defeats the whole process of decentralisation.after all ward councillors at district level do have their assembly where they discuss issues affectin their areas. In terms of by laws I do not see the reason why there should be uniformity unless those laws are in conflict with the constitution or national laws. There are some laws that the various council’s can choose to enact without copying from another.imo the issue should be about giving councils more powers and the opportunity to be creative and innovative… Read more »
Obvious Phiri

Dan, why waste your time proposing solutions to the festering MP/councillor conflict when the President stated, very unambiguously, that it’s a trivial issue, not even worth the time of a university lecturer?

Let’s turn a blind eye to this pesky issue, the DPP government is urging us.

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