Battle lines have been drawn between Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) councillors and Chiradzulu district commissioner (DC) Memory Kaleso whom they want out for turning down their demands to use council resources for political activities.
Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development has confirmed that there are disagreements between the councillors and the DC. The ministry said it dispatched a consultative team last week to examine the cause of the problem and promised the councillors that they will get feedback within a week.
While the one week period is yet to elapse, the councillors have put their foot down, saying they are expecting nothing short of a transfer for Kaleso by close of business this Wednesday or else they will force the DC out of the office themselves.
In an interview on Monday, Chiradzulu District Council chairperson Emmanuel Kamwendo summarised the councillors’ concerns as political and technical. He said while the councillors might not be able to sort out the technical aspect, they felt it was their responsibility to correct the political anomaly that was happening in the district.
The bone of contention between the district’s 10 councillors and the DC is that the DC does not bow down to the councillors demands to get transport or transport allowances from the council to attend political meetings organised by powerful political dignitaries in the district.
During the visit on Monday, The Nation found all the 10 members of the council and DPP district governor Joseph Kaliwo discussing the way forward under a summer hut near the container shop at Chiradzulu Boma after Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development had asked for time to look into the matter.
Responding to our questions on the issue, Kamwendo said: “We want her [the DC] out of the office by close of business on Wednesday [today]. We are not compromising; we are accepting nothing less than her leaving office. If not, on Thursday we are dragging her out of the office.”
Among others, Kamwendo and his fellow councillors accuse the DC, who has only been in office since January 2017, of undermining their political affiliation by denying them resources to attend political meetings and other activities.
The councillors singled out the DC’s denial to provide them transport and allowances to attend John Chilembwe Day commemoration national prayers at Mbombwe in the district on January 15 as well as failure to inform them and provide transport and allowances to welcome First Lady Gertrude Mutharika on one of her private visits in the district.
Further, the councillors also specifically pointed out that the DC denied them a chance to use a government vehicle with ‘MG’ registration to attend a political rally addressed by one of the Cabinet ministers who is also a member of Parliament (MP) in the district.
Kaliwo, besides sharing the concerns by the councillors, also blamed the DC for not paying a courtesy call on him as a governor of the governing party that was holding 100 percent majority of the members of the council.
He said: “She did not respect my office as the governor of the ruling party.”
Councillor for Chikowa Ward in Chiradzulu South Constituency, Alick Naphiyo, specifically accused the DC of trying to embarrass President Peter Mutharika by alleging that she was inciting people of Sub Traditional Authority Maone in the district to demand compensation from Mutharika on the road he was rehabilitating to his farm.
Chiradzulu has three Cabinet ministers namely Emmanuel Fabiano (Education, Science and Technology), Joseph Mwanamvekha (Trade, Industry and Tourism) and Henry Mussa (Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development).
Fabiano said he visits his constituency almost every two weeks, but he does not expect councillors to be receiving allowances from the DC’s office for attending his meetings.
Apart from the political misgivings the councillors were also not pleased with the DC for arbitrary removing some officers—acting director of planning, acting procurement officer and acting monitoring and evaluation officer—saying the DC would have involved the members of the council when making the decision.
But Kaleso, while saying there was no evidence that contractors are connected to the councillors, there were enough suspicion that need to be investigated to establish the links between the projects that were going on in some wards.
She said: “We have a case where one of the councillors collected cheques for one of the contractors up to more than K3 million. This contractor has not delivered the wood components despite collecting all the money.
“We also have a case where a councillor was paying artisans who were hired by the council. If we can check deeply we might see the connections and these people did not declare conflict of interest.
“There is a lot behind the councillors’ fight against me. The issues are about the projects and are linked to the officers I removed. They are only using the political issues to get the party behind them.”
DPP regional governor (South) Charles Mchacha denied that the councillors and the party leaders in the district were pushing a party agenda saying what he knows was that the issue in Chiradzulu was the operations between the members of the council and the DC.
In an e-mail response, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development spokesperson Muhlabase Mughogho said it was not the ministry’s policy to allow any political interference in administrative issues at council level.
She said: “Councils are not supposed to provide transport to politicians. This is an isolated case and doesn’t take place in other councils. Council management, controlling officer, councillors are supposed to work together towards achieving development in the district. It is worrisome when councillors opt for such actions when procedures are clear.”
On provision of transport to councillors to attend to visiting politicians, the ministry said it does not have any policy regarding visits of politicians in districts. n