The Malawi Local Government Association (MALGA) has said public sector reforms being championed by the Tonse Alliance-led administration would be difficult to implement in local councils because of the ‘continued and unwarranted interference by politicians and technocrats into the mandate and business of the councils’.
MALGA— an umbrella body of all local governments in Malawi—has since challenged the government that councils cannot reform and be vibrant with the current political environment they operate in.
However, the Minister of Information and Government Spokesperson, Gospel Kazako, has dismissed the accusation, insisting that councils must reform because there are no attractive stories coming from most of them.
MALGA has made its lamentations in a statement of reflection on Decentralization and Local Governance in Malawi: One Year Under the Tonse Administration.
The statement is signed by MALGA’s leadership, councillor Wild Ndipo and Hadrod Zeru Mkandawire – who are the association’s president and executive director, respectively.
MALGA says it has noted with regret over the years the visible and excessive interference into the mandate and operations of local governments and micromanagement of local governments’ staff by the central government, adding that this behaviour has sadly continued ‘in great measure’ during the first year of the new regime.
“The central government continues to treat local governments as departments and or development agencies of the central government and not development actors in their own right. Some actors at the central government continue to deliberately disfranchise local governments for their own personal convenience and gratification.
“MALGA noted that during the year under review, the central government continued to disregard local authorities as ‘development actors’ in their own right despite legal and policy framework providing so.
“We would like to remind the central government that respecting the principle of subsidiarity and territorial approach to development implementation is central to the concept of devolution which is the form of decentralization in Malawi,” reads the statement in part.
MALGA has also appealed to the Central Government to consider reconstituting the Local Government Services Commission as a matter of urgency, saying the commission is very key in filing high vacancy rates in local governments.
According MALGA, the process of recruiting internal auditors for local governments has stalled due to the absence of the commission.
MALGA has further called for improved conditions of service for controlling officers and senior managers in the local councils, saying they continue to be uncompetitive to attract or retain the best talent on the market.
“Controlling officers especially from the district councils, continue to operate without official vehicles to the extent that the majority of the district commissioners and chief executive officers of small urban councils, use MASAF 4 vans as their official vehicles which is not only a big demotivating factor but also demeaning to the office of a district commissioner and chief executive officer of a local government.
We regret that our request for consideration of official vehicles for controlling officers in the 2021/22 national budget has not been considered. We recommend that all controlling officers be entitled to official vehicles with a buy–out scheme at the end of contract of service as is the case with all controlling officers of other public bodies,” says the statement.
But, in his response to these concerns, Kazako said Central Government’s attempts to reform local councils to perform better should not be construed as interference.
He said local councils need total revisitation under the denominated spirit of decentralization that genuinely give power to the people.
“There are no attractive stories coming from most of the councils. Very few have done well. When government is engaging a gear to ensure administrative fluency of the councils, it is being distant from the truth to say government is interfering.
“We respect councils. We do not interfere. But remember councils belong to the citizens of this country whom we represent. The people of this country expect us to perform, that we have means that ensure we are delivering,” said Kazako.
But MALGA counter-argued, insisting that political interference should not be camouflaged as policy guidance.
“We are very welcome to the reforms and this is the very reason why the local governments are cooperating on the reforms. Further, we are very cognizant of the fact that the central government is supposed to provide policy guidance to the local councils. However, political interference should not be camouflaged as policy guidance.”
On the call for improved conditions of service for controlling officers and other senior managers in the local councils, Kazako said: “Improvement of conditions of service are a government wide issue.”
MALGA has recommended the tabling and enacting of the Local Government Amendment Bill 2020 and rolling out the Decentralization Policy in its entirety once its review is completed.
It says this will be a significant step towards realizing the concept of the local governments as vehicles of driving meaningful development at the local level.
“We would like to commend the government for enhancing meaningful and frequent policy and decision making dialogue with MALGA on local governance and decentralization. In addition, we commend the government for meaningfully engaging MALGA during the Local Government Amendment Bill 2020 processes.
“MALGA is delighted with this development and we take further delight in the posture displayed by ministries of Local Government and Finance for unprecedented commitment towards improving the fortunes of local governments during the year under review. Going forward, we expect this commitment and posture to result into meaningful action,” concludes the statement.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :