Malawi’s already stressed public purse faces an extra burden to finance an overall proposed increase of 193 percent in remuneration and benefits for 462 ward councillors if approved.
A copy of the proposal we have seen entitled Revised Conditions of Service for Councillors proposes that allowances for all ward councillors be revised from the current K80 000 to K180 000. Overall, if approved, each councillor’s package will rise by 193 percent from the current collective K4.9 million to K14.3 million. The packages include sitting allowances, telephone allowances, fuel and ward allowance.
Malawi Local Government Association (Malga) executive director Charles Chunga on Monday confirmed facilitating a discussion on the proposal, but said the issue was discussed in the context of other equally crucial matters relating to local government structures.
In a written response, he said: “I wish to confirm that Malga held a general assembly last week in Mangochi to reflect and review the performance of councillors and councils over the last five years.
“The assembly came up with proposals to improve the current situation. Malga will use the proposals in lobbying government to review some of these issues so that there is visible development and improved service delivery by councils.
“The document that you have in your possession is one of the many issues that were proposed. The proposals are in a very formative stage at the moment.”
Chunga said the assembly, among others, also discussed the performance of key development programmes such as the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), Local Development Fund (LDF) and District Development Fund (DDF) and impediments relating to human resources in councils, financial management as well as local revenue mobilisation.
Ben Kaluwa, a professor of economics at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College in Zomba, has warned that the proposal would trigger similar calls from other entities within the public sector. He said meeting such demands would not be sustainable.
The proposed perks are expected to be implemented after the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections for the new cycle of councillors.
The proposal, if approved, will see the gratuity of ward councillors rise from K500 000 to K1.5 million per person.
The proposal also seeks to increase the motorcycle loan entitlement for councillors from K1 million to K5 million and fuel allocation from 40 litres to 100 litres monthly.
The proposal comes barely a month after Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development adjusted upwards the allowances for ward councillors by 25 percent from K80 000 to K100 000.
In a circular signed by then Principal Secretary for Local Government and Rural Development Kiswell Dakamau dated December 4 2018, addressed to all district commissioners (DCs), the ministry said the adjustment was effected retrospectively from July 1 2018.
In its report, Malga said it submitted a petition to the ministry in June 2018 seeking an increase on the basis of increased cost of living.
While referring the matter to Malga, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development spokesperson Muhlabase Mughogho disputed the facts of the previous report as ‘erroneous’.
She said: “The government did not raise councillors’ honoraria in July. Nowadays it is not common practice in government that people should get such increments across the board, but based on individual financial performance of councils.
“Those that I know to have received such increments were from a few councils, including Mangochi District. But it is not in all councils. You can even check in the councils for yourselves.”
In December 2018, government also raised the honoraria for chiefs with paramount chiefs getting K100 000 per month from K50 000, among others.
In a telephone interview, Kaluwa said the justification that the current perks for ward councillors were negatively affecting implementation of development programmes was subjective.
He said: “We cannot really say what the councillors are getting right now is causing the programmes to suffer or that if they are given more, efficiency would be achieved.
“What is known is the fact that this push for more money will attract other entities who will also press government to review their perks. At the end of the day this will be overwhelming to the economy.”
Mughogho said the process for increment of salaries for councillors starts from the council before the actual approval by the ministry.
“The council applies to the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development if it wishes to have salaries of its councillors increased, the ministry then forwards the application to the National Local Government Finance Committee which assigns a committee to review the financial status of the council.
“It then issues a report which is reviewed at the ministry level before the actual approval or rejection by the minister based on the report from the National Local Government Finance Committee,” she explained.
Mughogho also highlighted that councils are at liberty to review sitting allowances and fuel allowances for councillors without the approval of the ministry.
Members of Parliament (MPs) have also been pressurising the government to adjust their perks upwards.
Malawi’s public purse is already facing pressure against a background of donors withholding direct budget support. Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe is facing a task of trimming some allocations during the Mid-Year Budget Review next month.
Most councils struggle to generate revenue and some, such as Mzuzu City Council and Neno District Council, have struggled to pay monthly salaries to secretariat staff due to poor revenue collection.