Some chiefs are corrupt to the core that they have been appointing village heads without villages—who according to official documents we have seen—now total over 7 400.
Secretary for Local Government Charles Kalemba disclosed in an interview that some traditional authorities (T/As) have now taken their powers to appoint group and village heads as business, pocketing as much as K750 000 from an appointment.
He said: “When the T/As and others are giving out [chieftaincy] titles, the newly-crowned chiefs pay money and it has become a business. It is no more about chieftaincy. It is a money-making business now. We have information that for someone to become a group village head, he must pay K250 000, or even K750 000, forcing some of them to sell their land to become chiefs.”
Kalemba observed that the chiefs are doing this against the Chiefs’ Act which states that for anyone to be appointed a group village head, they must have not less than 10 villages with not less than 30 households each.
But he said the T/As disregard these requirements as long as the prospective village heads are able to line their pockets with anything from K250 000 to K750 000.
“The development has created over 7 400 ungazetted chiefs across the country who have no villages and therefore are operating illegally,” said Kalemba.
There are 42 110 gazetted chiefs in the country—34 224 village heads, 7 532 group village heads, 86 sub-T/As, 167 T/As, 94 senior chiefs and seven paramount chiefs.
There are 5 753 ungazzetted village heads and 1 728 ungazetted group village heads, according to records we have accessed from the Ministry of Local Government.
But in an interview Senior Chief Lukwa of Kasungu dismissed the assertions by Kalemba that some chiefs are pocketing money in exchange of chieftaincy, arguing that the T/As are only doing their job as stipulated in the Chiefs’ Act.
He observed that things have changed overtime such that creation of a village head no longer requires 30 households but rather a family of 20 people above 18 years of age.
The senior chief also said government programmes especially on subsidies have contributed to some families opting to have their own village head so as to easily benefit from donations and other incentives.
Lukwa said people are also scrambling to have village titles because of the introduction of honoraria and other incentives that are given to chiefs.
But Kalemba nonetheless observed that the ministry has been tasked to look into the issue to sort out some of the sticky issues which will be done during a review of Chiefs’ Act.
He, however, noted that some of the challenges may not be resolved legally but would be sorted administratively.
Under the Chiefs’ Act Chapter 4 (1) the President may, by writing under his [her] hand, appoint to the offices of paramount chief, senior chief or chief such person as he [or she] deems shall be recognised as being entitled to such office.
Commenting on the issue political scientist from University of Malawi Happy Kayuni concurred with Kalemba, saying a survey done in 2017 by the college showed that chiefs are regarded as the most corrupt but interestingly they are the most trusted institution by the people.
According to findings by the survey titled ‘ Perception on Legitimacy of Traditional Leaders’, a majority of Malawians would prefer a change in how traditional leaders’ are selected.
Kayuni said the challenge is that the country continues to use an outdated Chiefs’ Act of 1967 and with a lot of developments that have happened over the years, there was need to amend the Act to keep it in line with the changing times.
Said Kayuni: “The problem is that all regimes that have come have not prioritised review of the Act. Maybe because of political reasons. The process was started but it stalled and now nobody talks about it.”
All the country’s five former presidents—Kamuzu Banda, Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Banda and Peter Mutharika promoted a number of chiefs during their reign.
A Special Law Commission on the Review of the Chiefs’ Act recommended that the President should not appoint chiefs to enhance neutrality.
Among other issues, the report recommended that T/As within the district should be choosing among themselves the most senior traditional leader to become senior chief.
The current Chiefs’ Act under review was enacted on December 2 1967.