President Peter Mutharika has approved the implementation of 16 district and town council reforms, including the review of by-laws to eliminate fraud and corruption and introduce toll-gates in border areas.
But a local expert in public policy has urged government to ensure the reforms are backed by appropriate legislation to make them more effective.
The disbanded Public Service Reform Commission, headed by Vice-President Saulos Chilima, proposed the 16 reform areas before the commission’s duties reverted to the Office of the President and Cabinet.
The approved reforms include local governance, revenue generation and financial management systems, infrastructural development and management and urban planning and development, among others.
Meanwhile, it is expected that councils will implement service charters and review by-laws to change communities’ mindsets about local governance. This will be done by engaging communities in the budgeting cycle, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development projects.
Public Service Reforms Unit spokesperson Constance Kilimo confirmed the development, adding that the reform areas vary between councils depending on the priority areas identified.
She said just as the reforms implemented when the Public Sector Reforms Management was under the Office of the Vice-President, quarterly reviews would be conducted to monitor progress.
“It is paramount that the council reforms are embedded and will be embedded in the national development strategy as it will enforce transformation from the grass roots level which is local government. And this is imperative for the development of this country,” Kilimo said.
However, while commending the introduction of the reforms in councils, Blessings Chinsinga, a Chancellor College professor of political science whose areas of specialisation include public policy analysis and institutions, said the major constraint to the reforms’ implementation and effectiveness would be the absence of enabling legislation.
“If the reforms are going to be successful, the government should set the legislative House in order. What has happened recently is in most cases we have created layers upon layers of reforms which are not effective because they are not backed by laws,” he said.
Chinsinga also said an effective institutional framework was imperative for the councils to succeed in the implementation of the reforms.
“These reforms are very good and would ensure councils are independent of government which was the initial spirit of the Local Government Act before it was amended. This is what was expected all along. But the reforms will be difficult to implement given the current impasse in legislation instruments to ensure an effective local government system,” he said.
He also observed that there were 17 pieces of legislation which, he said, were identified for amendment when the Decentralisation Policy was launched, but most of these have not gone to Parliament.
“What made the situation worse was the amendment of Local Government Act in 2010 because the eight amendments made in effect amounted to reversing democratic decentralisation,” he said.
A recent evaluation the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament conducted in 10 district councils revealed that there was poor or no auditing of finances due to inadequate staff and lack of coordination between audit and finance departments.
The committee suspected that reports of fraud of district council finances were a result of shortage of internal auditors. According to PAC, this resulted in rampant abuse of resources in the councils.
In addition, council reforms aim at addressing challenges by increasing private public partnerships through outsourcing of services such as security as well as introduction of e-ticketing for council amenities, introduction of banking services within council premises and introduction of toll gates.
Vice-President Chilima has on several occasions appealed to political, faith and traditional leaders to tackle the growing population, describing current trends as unsustainable.
“Promotion of the small family concept will be encouraged through participatory child control by-laws guidelines based on National Population Policy,” the reforms document reads.
To improve human resource management at council level, reform area three states that this would be done by rolling out of individual performance agreements and introduction of annual assessments.
The reforms also propose the introduction of hardship allowances in hard-to-reach areas to address the problem of staff shortage in health centres, schools and agricultural development areas which are not attractive to civil servants due to poor roads and lack of services such as water and electricity.
To bring orderliness to urban development in councils and reduce haphazard infrastructure development, the council will be tasked to produce urban structure plans and extension of town/city council boundaries.
“Upgrading of slums, by transferring of much land to the city/councils; extension of city boundaries to cater for more strategic infrastructure development hence improve the potential for revenue collection through the introduction of rateable areas,” reform area seven reads.
The reforms also include improvement of delivery of social services such as water, education, health and food security.
The council would also focus on piloting alternative water supply technological options where water boards are unable to reach and boreholes are not feasible; redeployment of teachers to understaffed schools to improve the pupil /teacher ratio.
Malawi has 35 local government councils comprising four city councils (Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba), two municipal councils (Luchenza in Thyolo and Kasungu), one town council (Mangochi) and 28 district councils.
For a long time, the councils have come under attack for their challenges, especially in financial accountability and lack of infrastructure. n