During the past year, there were many reports of chieftaincy wrangles. Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kondwani Nankhumwa talks to ALBERT SHARRA about some of the decisions government made on chiefs such as stopping them from operating in cities, municipalities and townships.
The year 2015 saw government and chiefs disagreeing following government’s move to implement a law that does not recognise chiefs in cities, municipalities and townships. What is the position now?
When the issue surfaced, President Peter Mutharika appointed a high-level committee chaired by the Chief Secretary to Government George Mkondiwa to look into the matter by holding consultations. The committee will then report and make some consultations. The Office of the President and Cabinet [OPC] is on top of this issue.
The key issue on the directive was that the Chief’s Act stipulates that no paramount chief, senior chief or sub-chief shall exercise jurisdiction within the area of city, municipality or township. Government was just implementing what the Act says. However, it seems the directive did not please some chiefs and they took some steps to stop it.
What I can say at the moment is that the issue is under discussion between government and chiefs in cities through their representatives and is being chaired by the Chief Secretary. The two parties are now able to understand each other and the discussion is going on well.
Our findings show that some chiefs in cities, municipalities or townships are still being recognised and discharging their duties as before. What do you say?
That is true and the reason is that the issue is still under discussion. The direction was made when the chiefs were operating. So, as of now, the chiefs in cities, municipalities or townships are still allowed to discharge their duties until an agreement is reached upon.
Government promised all councillors K1 million (about $1 468) loan each to buy motorcycles, but it has implemented two national budgets without including them. How do you explain this?
Indeed, government through my Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development planned to give councillors loans in 2014. Although this was not done, the K1 million loan promise still stands. Let me take advantage of this opportunity to assure them that government is interested in the issue and it is looking into it to ensure that the councillors should be given their K1 million loan this year .
Thirty chiefs from across Malawi had a meeting in Thyolo recently where they agreed to press government have the Land Bill tabled in Parliament and review the Chiefs Act. What are your views on this?
We are well pleased that chiefs are taking part in making sure that Malawi is developed. We welcome the idea, but I will not comment much on this because we are yet to meet the chiefs and discuss with them the outcome of their meeting and map the way forward together.
For long, government has lamented increased cases of chieftaincy wrangles in courts. During the chiefs meet in Thyolo, they said they want to have a tribunal where all chieftaincy wrangles will be resolved. What are your thoughts on this?
The just-ended year has been a good year for my ministry. One of the reasons is that there have been very few cases of chieftaincy wrangles in courts. This was achieved because most cases were handled at royal family level. If members failed to agree at family level, cases were referred to the highest traditional authority office of that particular culture. If that failed, several traditional authorities from several cultures were asked to intervene in the matter. This arrangement saw the decrease of chieftaincy cases in courts. As said earlier, my ministry will wait to hear the resolutions made during the chiefs’ indaba and map the way forward.
Some quarters have observed that politicians abuse chiefs by engaging them in political issues. During the meeting held in Thyolo, the chiefs agreed to be independent from political issues and speak with one voice on national issues. Is this practical in Malawi?
You might have noticed that since the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP]-led government came back to power in 2014, issues of chiefs being involved in political issues have been minimal. This is what we want. So, I will say yes it is possible and very practical in Malawi to have chiefs that are independent from political matters. I am happy that this is coming from the chiefs themselves and when we meet them to discuss their resolutions, we will see how this can be achieved. Chiefs are crucial in national development and it is good that they are able to mobilise themselves and remind each other their roles in society.
Any last comment?
I am happy that one sector of the ministry, the chiefs, decided to organise a meeting and discuss how to discharge their duties. I hope that the issue of chiefs in cities, municipalities and townships will be concluded in the year. As noted earlier on the issue of loans to councillors, I believe that we will succeed in giving out the loans in the year. So, I can say the year 2016 is very promising and I urge everyone to support government so that next year, at this time of the year, we should only speak about achieving more in the year. n