Malawi has seen a growing expression of public opinion and interest in the second half of 2014 around the value of devolution of power , and various models thereof, including federalism. All the reasons that would normally be offered for such expression—better access to resources and services, more effective local governance, and the expression of identity—have been put forward.
To what extent one or the other may be more valid or where Malawi is with devolution and how it should be taken forward , is yet unknown, as an empirical analysis of popular needs and demands in this regard has not yet been conducted As part of its work on shuttle diplomacy, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) also received formal submissions on the issues of inclusivity and federalism from representatives of some political parties. Furthermore, the Minister of Information made a public statement encouraging discussion and debate on these issues and asked the PAC and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) to facilitate the conversation and debate.
Therefore, PAC responded to the issue by convening a national stakeholder’s conference on ‘Inclusivity and Federalism in Malawi’. The conference rationale was not to determine whether Malawi should go federal or not but to provide an opportunity where the articulated objectives could be met, in particular to come up with conclusions by way of a roadmap on finding common ground .
PAC organized a National Stakeholders Forum on Inclusivity and Federalism from 24-25 November, 2014 at Mount Soche Hotel, Blantyre with an overall goal to promote a common understanding on inclusivity and federalism thereby reducing the potential for violent conflict. The existing gaps noted included : (1) stakeholders did not have a common understanding regarding federalism therefore it could remain a divisive tool, (2) the general public had a feeling that federalism was tantamount to splitting the country. In this regard, this activity served as a conflict prevention tool.The identified theme for this event was “Enhancing a common understanding on inclusivity and Federalism in Malawi”. In order to address this theme, three presentations were made – The History of Devolution in Malawi ; Comparative Experiences on Federalism ; and Decentralization – State of Affairs in Malawi .
PAC therefore considered among other sectors – representatives from the academia, faith community, political parties, Malawi Congress of Trade Union, Congoma, Law Society of Malawi, Judiciary, some traditional authorities, Civil Society, NGOGCN, Parliament , and Executive Branch to participate in the deliberations. Given the above outline, the specific objectives were as follows:
- To promote common understanding on federalism among various stakeholders and those who influence the public by their media comments on regular basis;
- To locate the debate on federalism on agreed roadmap thereby preventing violent conflict in Malawi;
- Provide comparative experiences on federalism so that participants gain a broader understanding on the
Issues identified by the forum as motivating factors to call for federalism
- Electoral system
The Forum was of the view that the First-Past – the – Post system promotes winner- takes it- all politics and leads to political exclusion. As such demands for federalism may have been necessitated by weaknesses in the electoral systems.
Getting rid of the First- Past – the Post electoral system was seen as one of the mechanisms of dealing with post-electoral tensions in Malawi. Participants underscored the need for further review and implement recommendations contained in the 2007 Constitutional Review Report. In this regard , participants further advocated for electoral reforms including the requirement for a winning presidential candidate to attain at least 50% of the total votes plus one more vote i.e. the 50%+1 absolute majority in a double ballot electoral process. The meeting was informed that MEC and MESN had already set in motion a process to review the electoral law. In addition, participants recommended that a maximum term limit for Members of Parliament be established.
- Social discrimination
Participants noted that Malawi still faces challenges of social discrimination in most social spheres based on religion, gender and disability etc. This has resulted into weak policy formulation and implementation coupled with weak social cohesion in the society.
Participants recommended the implementation of relevant formulae for inclusivity in Malawi as the current systems fail to promote inclusivity. Different sectors therefore were urged to come up with mechanisms for improving inclusivity.
- Separation of Powers
Participants noted that doubling as Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers does not yield positive results in Malawi’s political scene. The conduct erodes the doctrine of separation of powers which seeks to promote transparency and accountability through the provision of checks and balances among the three branches of government.
The current regime should expedite the constitutional review exercise in a consultative manner to ensure that most of these contradictions are dealt with.
- Big Man syndrome in political parties
In Malawi’s political contexts, the “big man” syndrome is associated with ‘presidentialism’. Participants noted that there is a pattern in which the patronage powers of the Presidents are so strong that they effectively affect the independent effectiveness of other political and state institutions, including political parties, parliament, the judiciary and the security services.
Political parties should be institutionalized by passing a law that promotes intra-party democracy, and regulates party funding and auditing. The conference further recommended that handouts should be banned in Malawi.
- Regionalism, ethnicity and sectionalism
Participants observed that regionalism, tribalism and ethnicity pervades all spheres – including the job markets and in most institutions. Each of the political parties is strongly dependent on ethnic affiliation for support. In view of his, ethnic/tribal politics continue to erode national cohesion. Tribalism in the job market permeates all strata of government employment (civil service), civil society organisations, faith-based organisations, and youth movement.
There were strong suggestions that the current regional demarcations be abolished to deal with deep-rooted perceptions among the three regions. It was felt that the regional demarcations as defined were contributing to regionalism and tribalism, hence calls for federalism. It was further suggested that Malawi should introduce Senate for the sake of inclusivity and social cohesion.
- Discontinuity of development projects across political regimes
As has been in the case in the previous PAC conferences, participants re-iterated that Malawi has seen several policy developments and planned reforms over the past years but most of these have not effectively operated for lack of mechanisms to insulate them against constant changes by different regimes. So too reforms have been initiated in different sectors but have not yielded results. Each leadership has proposed new policies while some good existing policy reforms remain in shelves of different sectors. This has led to politicization of developmental initiatives which if they had been insulated against partisan politics Malawi should have benefited. This , therefore , leads to uneven development in the country.
Participants felt that insulating policies should be done sooner rather than later given that most presidential candidates committed themselves to this agenda. Therefore, the current regime should create a Permanent Planning Commission backed by an Act of Parliament to concretize this recommendation. This would help to define and protect a national vision of Malawi from politicization.
- Unequal distribution of resources and development across regions
Participants noted that Malawi was still experiencing unequal distribution of resources in all the regions despite the introduction of multi-party system of government , and that there was unsatisfactory service delivery at national , regional and local levels.
Review the formula for allocating 5% of the national budget to Local Government Councils so that a higher (at least 20% proportion) is allocated to Councils.
ACTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION IN A ROAD MAP
Participants identified the following action points to be considered by way of conclusion on the roadmap:
- Creation of a Task Force to outline a road map that detail how the conversation on federalism should proceed. It was further suggested that the road map should include legal reforms.
- Dissemination of information on inclusivity and federalism should be undertaken with a multi-sectoral approach
- There is need for more and better media engagement to disseminate information, civic-educate people at various levels of society
- PAC should give feedback on the process to the Head of State so that he is well-informed about what is going on.
- The process should be more inclusive – especially youth and women should be included etc.
- There is need for a round table discussion on federalism involving proponents and opponents.
Following the national stakeholders forum, the debate will be more structured and federalism will not be seen as a divisive tool in our society. During second day of the conference participants were able to provide some driving factors that agitate the call for federalism, and based on the presentations made during the two-day conference, participants may have appreciated some basics on federalism . In order to deal with issues identified above in this statement, reforms in the economic, public and governance sectors should be linked.
Any reform operating in isolation is likely to fail unless it feeds and benefits from other reform initiatives. It is clear from the Forum that Federalism was seen as a completely different idea separate from devolution.
As PAC , we note that federalism is a system of government that re-enforces devolution. Malawi needs to radically reform the governance architecture if Malawi is to develop in the next 50 years. PAC will continue to make its contribution by way of enhancing public dialogue on issues of constitutional review, electoral reforms and devolution, including federalism.
As regards the time frame within which the debate on federalism will be concluded, the availability of funds for such a constructive debate will dictate the pace. PAC will not be moved by emotions but will follow a process approach. Therefore the National Stakeholders Forum is just one of the activities that will be implemented to determine the position on federalism as was indicated in a notice in the Daily Newspapers prior to the event.
Signed by: the Very Rev. Dr. Felix Chingota PAC CHAIRPERSON
Fr. Peter Mulomole PAC PUUBLICITY SECRETARY
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