- Nothing wrong in sharing—MCP
- CSOs see party in double standards
The controversial K4 billion allocated to MPs to facilitate development has silently been disbursed to district councils without any single shot of protest from legislators who opposed it outside the House, exposing the hypocrisy with which politicians have treated the matter.
Nation on Sunday has verified with Treasury and some district councils that the money has been disbursed, targeting all constituencies in line with the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) proposal that the funds be shared to all, and not selected members of Parliament (MPs).
But when the issue first came to the fore, with a proposal to benefit 86 constituencies, opposition MPs opposed the move only to change later when all constituencies were included, forcing them to approve a law which authorised government to disburse the K4 billion, yet outside the House, they joined the protest to force government to reverse the decision made in the House.
According new guidelines, the disbursed fund will go through Area Development Committees (ADCs)—which is a new financing window for local development on top of other existing financing mechanisms such as the District Development Fund (DDF), Constituency Development Fund and Local Development Fund (LDF).
MCP’s spokesperson on Finance Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi, in a telephone interview last Wednesday, said there was nothing wrong in sharing the K4 billion as it was not ‘illegal funding’ because it was duly approved by Parliament.
“I think there has been serious misunderstanding by a lot of people who have spoken about the issue. We caught the thief stealing money and we said let’s share the money equally, thereby making the whole Parliament part of the thievery. Someone was stealing money from Malawians and we said let’s share equally and at the end of the day it is Malawians who will benefit from this thievery,” said Dzonzi.
While parliamentary records are clear that MCP proposed the equal sharing of the contested funds, MCP president and Leader of Opposition Lazarus Chakwera made a U-turn that his party would not take a share of the funds.
Chakwera took part in the civil society-organised nationwide protest on April 27 which, among other issues, pressed government to reverse the decision on the K4 billion.
In an interview with our sister newspaper The Nation in March this year, MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka, then deputy SG, said the party did not want to be party to the ‘mess’.
Mkaka said: “The statement delivered by the MCP President [Lazarus Chakwera] last Friday was very clear. Essentially, the leader of opposition said he does not want to be party to the experimentation with people’s taxes. In plain language, we [MCP] do not want to be party to the mess and that is the stand of the party”.
Asked why he accepted to now benefit from the funds, Chakwera said he was not aware of the disbursement, adding that he just returned from abroad and was yet to be briefed by the district commissioner on the matter.
Put to him that Nation on Sunday has learnt that Lilongwe received money for disbursement to all 18 constituencies, which include his Lilongwe North West Constituency, the MCP leader maintained that he would only comment after getting in touch with the district council’s office.
According to Lilongwe district commissioner (DC) Lawford Palani, Lilongwe has received about K367 million to be shared across 18 constituencies, with each one of them expected to get about K19 million.
“We received the funds about three weeks ago and we have briefed all the ADCs which are expected to identify the projects in consultation with councillors and the approval of MPs,” said Palani.
Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development also confirmed that the K4 billion has been channelled to all councils under the Community-Managed-Project Fund to be managed by ADCs instead of MPs as it was initially designed.
The ministry’s spokesperson Muhlabase Mughogho could not say whether the change in target was a result of public criticism.
Meanwhile, civil society organisations (CSOs) say their petition on the fund still stands; hence, were equally counting on the goodwill of the opposition to help reverse the decision, according to Centre for Human Rights Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Timothy Mtambo, who alongside other CSO leaders, met Chakwera at Parliament to seek his support on the matter.
“As far as we are concerned, the K4 billion remains an issue. It is a dubious fund which must be reversed and we will continue to press government on this matter. We are disappointed that the opposition has decided to benefit from the funds, which is hypocrisy of the highest order. I thought we spoke the same language,” said Mtambo.
Gift Trapence, another CSO leader who met Chakwera said: “This is unfortunate and it is double standards. As CSOs, we expected the opposition not to be party to the K4 billion plunder. As CSOs, we have the best interest for Malawians as such we wanted the funds to be suspended and channelled through properly established structures to benefit Malawians. What we have seen is that all MPs, including the opposition agreed to rob Malawians by normalising an illegal transaction”.
But Dzonzi sees no hypocrisy, saying it was a decision of Parliament; hence no MP should be taken to task for supporting the idea, adding that the funds are meant to benefit Malawians and not individual legislators.
On the leader of opposition’s statements which rebuked government over the funds, Dzonzi came to the defence of Chakwera, saying Chakwera’s position outside Parliament was his personal opinion as a citizen of the country.
Meanwhile, a number of district commissioners have hailed the new funding window, saying it augurs well with principles of decentralization, where communities take charge of their development.
According to Lilongwe DC Palani, the new arrangement will help to improve community involvement and ownership, which has been lacking.
Mzimba DC Thomas Chirwa, whose district has received K226 million to cater for 11 constituencies, with each getting about K19 million, also welcomed the new arrangement, arguing it empowers communities to be responsible for their development.
“However, what we need to do is to help communities with some training on how they can manage funds and projects. And, as a council, we will be doing that soon to improve the capacity of ADCs so that the new funding arrangement is a success,” said Chirwa.
Kasungu District Council has received K183 million, according to district commissioner James Kanyangalazi.
But governance analysts have questioned the creation of a new financing window for community development in the presence of other financing windows such as district development fund, LDF and CDF, which have proved not to be successful.