CSOs identify serious flaws Local Government Act Amendment Bill

Civil society orgnaizations under the National Advocacy Platform (NAP) have observed serious flaws in the proposed 2017 Local Government Act Amendment Bill.

Sandram: Local governance structures are pivotal to ensuring transparency and accountability at the grassroots level–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times
Chiweza making her presentation before CSO leaders in Lilongwe–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times
Sandram: Making his presentation–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu,, Nyasa Times
A cross-section of CSO leaders who are attending the review meeting in Lilongwe–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

The Bill was presented to the National Assembly in 2017 and seeks to amend the Local Government Act, Cap. 22:01 of laws of Malawi (the “Act”) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the local authorities and to align the Act with objectives of decentralization as stipulated in the Decentralization Policy, 1998.

Additionally, the Bill seeks to align the Act with the objectives of decentralization and international best practices to make local authorities more efficient and effective by amending temporary provisions that were introduced in the 2010 and incorporating new provisions that would strengthen the Local Government Act.

However, the Bill was withdrawn and changed in parts by the previous government, which aimed to maintain some of the central and presidential powers that are generally considered of detriment to local government operations and development.

And with support from the USAID and UKAID through the Local Government Accountability and Performance (LGAP) Project, the CSOs are currently reviewing the Bill in Lilongwe to iron out the flaws.

One of the presenters at the review meeting, Associate Professor of Public Administration at the Chancellor College (CHANCO), Asiyati Lorraine Chiweza, observed, for instance, that the proposed Bill does not address the issue of alignment of constitutional provisions to the Act.

Chiweza stated that creation of Local Government is a constitutional mandate and therefore any amendment should seek to align legislation with constitutional provisions.

“This huge gap does not foster the spirit of decentralization and in not in tandem with membership provisions of section 147 of the Constitution,” she said.

Chiweza further disclosed that the Bill does not address the presence of traditional leaders in urban councils, which is contrary to Section 5 of the Chiefs Act. The section provides that chiefs have no mandate with the city, municipal and town councils.

“This needs to be addressed. The ban was sustained in some councils, but it remains a dicey issue in others, especially on involvement of chiefs on land matters,” she explained.

Furthermore, the proposed Bill is silent on the legal mandate of the local governance structures such as the Village Development Committee (VDC) and Area Development Committee (ADC).

The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace of the Archdiocese of Lilongwe (CCJP Lilongwe) governance officer, Mwai Sandram, said local governance structures are critical in ensuring transparency and accountability in the implementation of development projects at the grassroots level.

Sandram feared that exclusion of VDCs and ADCs would breed abuse by politicians, especially in the implementation of development projects at the local level.

“They need to be given legal mandate so that they facilitate and improve service delivery by duty-bearers,” he said.

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