Malawi’s botched public service reforms have caused confusion – ODI

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) says that Malawi will continue to face confusion, mismanagement and duplication of public service delivery if reforms remain unchanged.

The institute, which launches the Fragmented governance and local service delivery in Malawi findings and recommendations on 12th May 2014, at the Crossroads Hotel in the capital city, Lilongwe, says: “As voters prepare to go to the polls in Malawi to elect the first local authorities in almost a decade, a new report reveals botched public service reforms have resulted in confusion, mismanagement and duplication, allowing scarce resources to be squandered.”

ODI explains that the decentralisation of local services which started in 1998 was intended to strengthen community oversight of health, education, sanitation and water services.

Kanyongolo: To present research paper
Kanyongolo: To present research paper

“Instead, the report Fragmented governance and local service delivery in Malawi from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) found that the process was never fully completed, and that some services are deteriorating, not improving,” says ODI.

The paper which will be presented by Dr. Fidelis Edge Kanyongolo, follows research which studied two districts of Dedza and Rumphi, as well as one city, Blantyre.

They found many instances of hard-working local officials achieving remarkable successes with little money or support. But overall, researchers found these achievements were in spite of, not because of, the institutions supposed to deliver them.

Kanyongolo is also expected to answer questions from journalists.

The research authors further say, “the ad hoc roll out of local government and service delivery in Malawi has resulted in functional fragmentation, unclear mandates, overlapping jurisdictions and responsibilities, and complex administrative processes.”

The reality of poor service provision on the ground states that in Blantyre, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) reported that Mbayani Primary School had one of the highest classroom densities in the world – 611 per classroom, and there exists severe shortages of front-line staff.

In a clinic run by Blantyre city health department, where there should be five nurses, only three are employed, and also there is overlapping jurisdictions leading to paralysis.

In Ndirande market for instance, the Blantyre Department of Health and the water board are both responsible for solving the problem of polluted water – with the result that actions are rare and poorly coordinated.

“Although decentralisation in Malawi was intended to deepen democracy, the report documents how old power allegiances and patronage have continued to subvert the intention of the reforms instead of improving services for people. The reform process was also damaged by the suspension of local councils in 2005 – a move which this year’s election will reverse,” adds ODI.

The authors recommend that to make the most of this fresh start, Malawi’s first newly elected councillors should receive support to fulfil their roles and functions.

There also needs to be a review of the legal framework for local government, to resolve some of the current confusion over power structures.

Offering incentives to improve performances at the local government level, reducing duplication and complex processes, and finding reforms that work in urban areas as well as rural areas with less infrastructure and capacity have also been recommended by ODI.

Councillors are not on a payroll and will be voted into place for the first time in many years alongside Presidential and Parliamentary officers come 20th May 2014 this year.

ODI is the UK’s leading think tank on development issues.

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