It is a sunny afternoon, the temperatures downtown have improved from the heatwaves that characterised a few days ago to the orders of 23 Degrees Celsius. My sons and daughter have taken me for an afternoon bite at the delicatessen in the neighbourhood. On the radio is a popular advocate in town discussing issues of how the student demonstrations, potential impending labour union protests in a number of provinces and marches against poor service delivery may be averted by strengthening the functioning of the multilevel government.
Suddenly, my son asks me a question about the cause of the demonstrations and why some districts and countries needed demonstrations before people’s needs could be provided for. This launces me into thinking about cooperative governments and how they could offer service delivery more superiorly to people than unitary governments characterised with strong central governanceceteris paribus.
The purpose of this article therefore is to take forward the debate about state organization and how different parts of the government can share power in a manner that can propel development inspirations of a nation. Inevitably, it may touch on some issues related to the jurisprudence of constitutional law to elucidate why we need a constitutional reform of a material nature for purposes of development at the grassroots level.
That the manner in which governments are organized, and power shared, between parts of the government is a critical component for local and national development, cannot be over-emphasized. A disorganized government is often associated with costly inefficiencies, low zeal to tackle urgent issues and low accountability among other downsides. It is hence important to have a better organized government in order to effectively advance the goals of economic development and social liberties.
Although governments may be organized in various ways, for purposes of the present submission we may differentiate between unitary and Federal forms of state organization. Malawi has a unitary government where power is concentrated enormously at the higher levels and the lower levels only have limited powers for deciding or planning their own development. It would appear that such a form of government deters development as may be discerned below.
A federal government (which I will call a cooperative government, hereinafter), on the other hand maybe organized such that we have several spheres of government at various levels working in coordination and cooperation and power is not outright concentrated in one sphere of government. To achieve this, we can, and ought to take a deliberate effort as a nation to re-write the constitution such that is establishes two further spheres of government in a meaningful way, namely, the provincial spheres and the local spheres, so that in total we may have the national sphere, the provincial sphere and the local sphere. Currently, any structures that appear to speak of the same idea unfortunately relate to the national sphere in a hierarchical manner implying that the lower structures parrot the rhythm of the national sphere all the time without much contextualization. This would have to change by law. The number of provinces for example may have to be more than the three regions that we already know whereas all the districts in each province would constitute parts of the local government.
Legislative authority of the Spheres of government
Notice that a cooperative government adds a second level of checks and balances on government branches, the first of which is the usual Montesquieu’s separation of powers (SOP) of government into the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary. The legislative authority of the national sphere of the Malawi government would still vest in the National Parliament and derived from the revised constitution. The national parliament would need to be at least bicameral to provide enough checks and balances to one another and to provide for the heterogeneity in the electorate that now exists in Malawi. For example the parliament would need to comprise of the current National Assembly and then a Council of Provinces as a second house.The provinces would need to have their own legislatures comprising of elected representatives, and so too would, the municipal councils.
The executive authority of the national sphere of course would still be vested in the President and his Cabinet as is the case, whereas that of the Provincial and local spheres would be vested in the provincial Executive council and the municipal councils respectively, all provided for by the revised constitution. All of the spheres of course would need to have their judicial authorities vested in the courts.
Is it worth it?
At this point one would wonder whether this wouldn’t simply impose tremendous pressure on the already meagre resources as these structures would need funding. That is a good point, but one should note that government always has money and the more structures a government creates the more they will find ways of effectively using the money. Such a nature of state organization would enhance checks and balances and reduce state resources abuse thereby freeing up more for development.
Will the provinces win or lose?
Contrary to how the debate has shaped in Malawi, (where some of those who don’t want federalism, appear to think that it will marginalize them because provinces will be independent, or those who want it because they think it will give them full autonomy and advantage them more than the entire nation), the truth lies in the middle and the realities are such that the two opposing extremes are not possible. A cooperative government as can be crafted in Malawi obviously will not mean a creation of independent states within the currently territorial bounds of Malawi. Moreover federalism cannot be taken as a step towards secession as the prime control of the defence of the country will still be under national control.
In practice, the constitution would need to be revised such that the spheres of government are interdependent, interrelated and of course distinct. The implication of this is that we would expect that the national and provincial spheres would have areas where they may exercise complete/exclusive control themselves, for example road traffic rules, fines etc ( for provinces), and defence, mining, etc for the national spheres. Some areas which are both local and national in nature eg taxation can be considered areas of concurrent control and so the national and provincial spheres can have concurrent powers over those, in which case if issues arise, the two spheres would need to cooperate to solve them.
Such concurrence and exclusivity would give both, some level of autonomy and dependence, which is what is needed for federalism to help spur development. The municipalities will also have their tasks some of which may be assigned by the provincial and national spheres etc.
If we were able to embark on something like this, we would be on our way towards achieving real democracy as embraced at the turn of the 1990s by enhancing participation in development. The system would also contribute more to the socio-economic transformation and service delivery agenda of the country, besides enhancing the management of the diversity that is characterising our nation today. That way, development as we want it, may become a reality. My only warning is that, such a worthwhile endeavour, is very ambitious, and only very few would want to take it forward- can you be one of them?
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