At least 79 percent of city and district councils are pathetic under-performers who need to urgently reverse this situation, particularly in some key governance areas.
A study report released yesterday in Lilongwe by independent consultant Professor Mustafa Hussein, conducted on the performance of councils in the 2018 /2019 financial year, revealed that few councils did well in some areas while most of them registered no improvements on governance and cross-cutting issues.
His findings revealed that only 21 percent of the councils performed well in areas such as development planning, human resources management and development, health and harnessing the environment. This was despite the fact that previous reports had pointed to the need for the councils to strengthen their governance structures.
For example, a research conducted by Asiyatu Lorraine Chiweza, a Zomba-based professor in the department of political and administrative studies at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College in 2015, also revealed that councils had a long way to go in improving governance systems. The report on the Political Economy Analysis of Accountability in Governmental Councils that recommended there should be reforms to improve governance aspect in councils.
But Hussein’s report showed that the previous recommendations were not implemented. Pegging the national average score for all key performance areas (KPAs) in the 2018/2019 fiscal year at 39 percent, the report indicated that only Blantyre and M’mbelwa councils topped the list of the most 14 improved councils. Followed by Kasungu, Mulanje, Dowa, and Lilongwe.
Mchinji, Nkhata Bay, Mangochi, Salima, Phalombe, Ntchisi and Zomba are also included in the good performing category.
But Rumphi and Karonga have been listed as the worst performing councils. Others in this category are Thyolo, Dedza, Ntcheu, Likoma, Neno, Balaka, Mwanza, Nsanje, Nkhotokota, Chitipa and Chikwawa.
According to Hussein, this means performance of all KPAs need improvement on the governance aspect while other areas such as health, public works, agriculture and education require critical attention.
He said: “In the 2018/2019 fiscal year, the national score for all KPAs was 31 percent. This is lower than the 2016/2017 national score of 35 percent. This represents a four percent decline in the performance. However, the aggregate national score of 31 percent is below 50 percent and it implies there is need for improvement.
“Urban councils did not perform satisfactorily in the seven key performance areas based on expected level or indicators or regulatory requirements or established norms and standards. However, some few systems are in place and functioning in the councils but not to the expected level and therefore there is need for improvement.”
The report attributes good performance of some councils to sound leadership at council secretariat, good record keeping, retention of key personnel and a prudent use of financial resources.
In an interview, both Blantyre district commissioner Bennet Nkasala, whose district is a star-performer, and Rumphi District Council chairperson Harry Mnyenyembe, whose entity is the worst performer, described the findings as a true reflection of how they performed in the last financial year.
Nkasala said his strategy has always been to include everybody as well as engaging relevant stakeholders in the daily operations of his council. He further hinted that council meetings are frequently held to ensure there is transparency on what the council does.
But while acknowledging that his council did not do well in a number of areas, Mnyenyembe underscored the point that the poor performance was partly due to frequent transfers of key personnel.
For example, he mentioned that government transferred some of the top officials, including directors of Finance and DCs, four times in a year., leading to a loss of institutional memory on what the council was supposed to do.
Mnyenyembe said: “I should say that the findings in the report are a true reflection on the performance we registered. But we did not do well because we had too many transfers. We had situations whereby directors of finance were transferred twice a month; that really affected us.”
Deputy Minister for Local Government Halima Daudi acknowledged that transfers of key personnel at council level affected their performance. She hinted that there is need for staff to work harder.
She said: “It is our duty to ensure that councils are performing. Sometimes when we ask them why there is under-performance, they will also say it is because of funding. But funding on its own is not an issue; it needs staff to work hard. As a ministry, we are going to make sure that all the councils are being empowered and supported.”
In terms of policy direction, the ministry’s Principal Secretary Charles Kalemba proposed that the government should revert to the 1998 Ministry of Local Government Act which provided a five-year term of office for officials such as council chairpersons. According to him, the moving back to the old law would help improve performance of councils in governance aspect because that will also help in sustaining programmes and putting on check office bearers.