Public finance management continues to trouble the country with stories of corruption, misprocurement and abuse of office in government exposed every day. Our staff writer GOLDEN MATONGA caught up with Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (CSAT) executive director WILLY KAMBWANDIRA to discuss the state of social accountability in the country. Excepts;
As an accountability watchdog, what is your general comment on the state of accountability in the country?
Malawi is not doing well in ensuring that there is transparency and accountability in the management of public resources. The Auditor General’s audit reports show serious financial leakages that have come about either due to total disregard to accountability guidelines or lack of political will to free and reinforce the capacities of oversight institutions.
While we have invested billions of kwachas building capacities and financial systems in local district councils, we have failed to invest in civic engagement to empower communities to hold those in authority accountable for their actions and decisions.
You will agree with me that fiscal information and decisions remain a preserve for selected individuals at Capital Hill and in district councils. More often than not, we have not been told how much money is spent on what project. All these things attest to serious accountability flaws in my opinion.
Over the past decade, we have witnessed increased reports of massive abuse of public funds in both the local councils and in government departments and agencies. Do you think your organisation is winning the fight against corruption and mismanagement of State funds in Malawi?
The battle against corruption and abuse of state resources is for everyone. It is not for us neither is it for the Anti-Corruption Bureau [ACB] or the Office of Ombudsman alone. It will take all of us to end corruption. But to answer your question, yes we are happy with the progress made towards this fight.
We have seen Malawians rising against those in power over dubious selling of public land and government reversing decisions such as the re-introduction of the Junior Certificate Examinations [JCE] and abolition of the quota. But as I said it is high time that we invested heavily on civic engagement as a country.
Again, the amendment of the Public Finance Management Act gives hope that all financial leakages will be sealed and stiffer penalties will be put in place for violation. We, therefore, urge Treasury to ensure speedy tabling of the amended PFM Bill in the coming Parliament sitting. We believe that the amended public finance law will give power to the citizens to provide oversight in management of public finances. CSAT is championing drafting of the National Social Accountability Action Plan to guide management and use of public resources.
There have been uproars over the ways public funds under different financing windows particularly the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), the Local Development Fund (LDF) and the District Development funds (DDFs) are managed in district councils. What do you make of these fears?
We share similar fears mostly on how some funding windows are managed in the district councils. We notice that some financing windows are more protected than others in local councils. This is particularly the case with funding windows like Constituency Development Fund which most of the times gets 100 per cent of the approved allocation, and politicians have control over it. This is the more reason why these funding windows have been prone to abuse in the district councils.
One of the reasons for accountability failure in Malawi is the capture of public institutions and lack of representation of the poor people. We believe that it is high time we rolled out citizen budgets in the local councils to promote transparency and accountability on the use of public funds.
Do you think as a country we are doing well in the implementation of the local decentralisation processes?
I believe that we have not entirely failed to implement the decentralisation process as a country. We have examples where central government has fully devolved its functions to the local authorities. However, that said, the decentralisation process has not been effectively implemented because of a number of factors such as weak structures and lack of political will.
The decentralisation process entails that we have strong Area Development Committees [ADC] that are intact and strong and able to identify community needs, plan and provide oversight in project implementation. As a country, we have failed to utilise them because they are weak. On the hand, central government is not ready to entirely devolve its functions to local authorities and strengthen the capacities of local structures.
We notice that your organisation has strong interest in promoting civic engagement. What message do you have for Malawians ahead of fresh presidential election?
We are investing a lot on civic engagement. We notice there is limited space for citizen participation on matters that affect their lives in the country. Most of the times, Malawians are not consulted on critical matters of national importance. Our focus is, therefore, to create an empowered society that is capable of holding policy holders to account for their actions and decisions. Elections are one of them; hence, our strong interest to encourage Malawians to go register and vote for their preferred presidential candidates.