Federalism proponents blame Malawi’s underdevelopment on unitary system

Proponents of the federal or devolved system of government have blamed Malawi’s sluggish development and systemic inefficiencies on the unitary system, which they argue promotes nepotism and corruption.

They have since urged Malawians to consider adopting a federal or a devolved system of government and do away with the current unitary system.

During a virtual discussion that took place on Saturday, November 26, 2022, and hosted by international expert and social media activist Onjezani Kenani, commentators emphasized that time had come for young people to start having a serious conversation around federalism or devolution, stressing that this is the only way to simplify public service delivery.

MP Yeremiya Chihana

The contributors to the discussion included politician Atupele Muluzi, AFFORD lone legislator and longtime federalism proponent Yeremiah Chihana and Dr. Rex Kalolo, a medical doctor and religious leader.

The young Muluzi argued that the current system, where everything is approved at Capital Hill, is not working for Malawi, as it makes public service delivery take longer than it should, and gives power to only a few people to control the public purse.

The former UDF leader advanced that a devolved system would provide for better accountability, transparency and equal distribution of national wealth but that it can only be achieved through amending the country’s constitution and calling for a referendum.

Muluzi–Devolved system of government is the best option for Malawians

On fears that federation or devolution may promote regionalism and cronyism, Atupele said he would not advocate for devolution based on regions but rather population and other demographic factors that may be discussed by governance experts.

He highlighted that in 1964 when the current central government system was implemented, the population of Malawi was 4m people and today population has reached 20m which is a heavy increase in the demand for public services and makes it difficult for governments to meet the development needs of its people.

On his part, Dr Kalolo urged Malawians to bury their fear of the unknown, saying even in 1993, those opposed to democracy would tell Malawians “democracy ndi nkhondo” yet it has been 29 years without any threat of war.

He opined that a federation would help reduce powers of the president and that it will provide greater freedoms and flexibilities at a local level, so that councils can work more effectively to improve public services for their area.

Dr Kalolo said this will also ensure that revenues generated within a particular area are used to develop that particular area and that Malawi’s rich natural resources benefit the people that particular area.

AFORD’s Chihana has been a proponent of federalism, and in September 2019, he moved a motion in parliament for the adoption of a federal system of governance.

Chihana argued that a federal system of government would help promote equitable distribution of resources and developments and eliminate regionalism, nepotism and corruption in the country. He urged the House then to resolve that all efforts and legal framework should be put in place towards adoption of a federal system of government within a specified time period and in any case before the next scheduled election. He was not successful in his bid. 

The social media activist Kenani urged Malawians to borrow a leaf from federal governments around the world that adopted federalism and understand both advantages and disadvantages so that people make an informed choice.

Lilongwe Mpenu lawmaker Eisenhower Mkaka, who is current Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, is on record to have supported Chihana in 2019 and argued that federalism could provide solutions to some of the challenges such as nepotism, tribalism, favouritism and cronyism.

Immediate former President Peter Mutharika has, on several occasions, spoken on the importance of adopting a federal government system.

In 2006, when invited to present a paper on federalism during the constitutional review conference, Mutharika supported the idea of a federal state for proportional representation and also endorsed a view to rotate the presidency between the three regions as possible solutions of giving “each region the opportunity to develop” and also a means to addressing regionalism.

In federalism, central government delegates some of its powers to sub-unit governments permanently and is guaranteed in the constitution, so the powers of the sub-units cannot be withdrawn unilaterally by the central government.

Devolution of powers however involves the statutory delegation of powers from central government to govern through subnational authorities, such as counties, states, regions or provinces.

The devolved powers of the subnational authority may be temporary and are reversible, ultimately residing with the central government.

Kenya is the latest African country to have adopted devolution. In 2010, Kenyans enacted a new constitution, which established of a system of devolved government with 47 lower level county governments.

The operation of the county governments started soon after the March 2013 elections, which included the election of county governors, deputy governors and representatives. These 47 new county governments are now in charge of overseeing some functions— such as the provision of health care, pre-primary education, and maintenance of local roads— which were previously the responsibility of Kenya’s national government.

In turn, these county governments will receive a share of national revenues. The county governments will also be expected to mobilize revenue from other sources within their counties, such as taxes on property and entertainment. Countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, USA and Canada are either federal or devolved governments.

Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :

Sharing is caring!

Follow us in Twitter
Read previous post:
Talking Blues: Behold, the king!

Defying questionable advice from the Attorney General (AG), Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee (Pac) went ahead to hear Ms Helen Buluma’s...