This year’s May 20 tripartite elections will see the return of the councillors in the country’s governance. However, there are some legal issues regarding this office that some argue will make it difficult to councillors to work effectively. EPHRAIM NYONDO talked with renowned lawyer Noel Chalamanda who is also contesting on the position.
Q. Briefly, explain why have you decided to go for councillorship—a job mostly associated with retired people?
A. I find it to be a disheartening misconception that such an important role to serve one’s community should be looked upon so lowly regarded. Legal eligibility criteria for this office do not indicate that one has to be a retired person to contest. This is not a legal requirement but plainly a grave misconception that we have had over the years.
On the contrary, I am of the strong view that for such an important role of councillor we need energetic, knowledgeable, educated people that are passionate, have clear vision, receptive to ideas and proposals are creative and innovative are ready and willing to depart from the norm and venture into challenging projects befitting the e-age or the 21st century.
Q.In your understanding, why do you think we need strong councillors in Malawi’s governance system?
A. I will give the instance of the challenges facing Blantyre. Security is at its all-time low, infrastructure (buildings, roads, street lights, pavements bridges) are in a state of utter degeneration. Sanitation and lack of health facilities is a major concern. Public Amenities such as parks, sports arenas theatres concert halls, museums, libraries, botanical gardens, woodlands places of cultural and scientific interests only exist in the statute books. If you take a national look, you will find that these challenges apply to various city and district councils in the country. As such, we need strong councillors that are focused, disciplined, open-minded, innovative, creative, energetic and aggressive people can grapple with. Hence, my urge for a real strong council. This may be described as a mini cabinet for some part of the country.
Q.There are arguments regarding the ‘volunteerism’ nature of the councillor’s job which demotivates councillors to work hard. What is your view on this? Should councillors be on salary?
A. The law is such that councillors are only entitled to an allowance that may be determined by the relevant Minister on recommendation by Local Government Finance Committee. That is the law and so it shall be unless amended. Thus whoever is taking up this role must do so fully aware of the conditions. I believe councillorship is about leading one’s community in the never-ending efforts to make our places better. It is not a business venture. I therefore have no qualms about the fact that there is no salary.
Q. The 2012 Amendment to the Local Government Act gives power to MPs to also be voting members at the council level. Some argue that this will create power tussle between MPs and councillors at the council. What are your views on this?
A. If both MPs and Councillors have but one goal, the interest and well-being of their communities, their people and their cities at heart, I see no reason for the tussle. By law MPs of the relevant local government area are part of the Council in their ex officio capacity with voting rights. The advantage I see in this is the attempt by the law to bring coordination in developmental efforts of different stakeholders. That’s why the law also includes Traditional Authorities of the local government area as part of the Council albeit without voting rights. So if the intentions of all these stakeholders are genuine, patriotic and are bent on service rather than self-aggrandisement, there wouldn’t be a power tussle more especially when the law clearly stipulates the roles of each of these people composing the Council.
Q. Do you think the requirements as stipulated by law for someone to be a councillor are enough for the country to produce good councillors?
A. The law requires that those that wish to contest for these noble public offices must as a minimum be 21 years old, able to speak and read English for purposes of actively participating in Council Proceedings, among others. Further the law excludes people who have not been convicted of some offences entailing moral turpitude and dishonesty, undischarged bankrupts, people owing allegiance to other countries. These are minimum legal requirements. It is up to the electorate to elect persons into these offices who have certain expertise and some superior qualities much more than the legal minimum. It would have been desirable that those with expertise in different areas and professions, with knowledge and the relevant education stepped up to lead in coordinating development efforts.
Q. Anything you want to add
A. This is time for us, as people, to rise, roll up our sleeves and recreate our city and district councils. As somebody vying for a Blantyre seat, I have a strong belief that we can boost security (so that we are able to work for longer hours, move freely at any time, attract businesses and investment) and thus stimulate our economy.