Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development has warned city and district councils against diverting resources to support political party activities, cautioning management that they risk punitive measures if they do not comply.
While the communication has not specified the beneficiary political party, the trend over the years has seen political parties in power getting access to vehicles and other resources of local councils as well as parastatals for partisan activities.
Governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters have on numerous occasions been seen aboard vehicles belonging to government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) travelling to and from political functions, including State events presided over by President Peter Mutharika.
In a memo dated March 14 2018, the ministry’s principal secretary (PS) Kiswell Dakamau said the ministry has noted with concern that some councils deliberately continue diverting resources such as vehicles, fuel and funds to support political party activities.
He said the practice contravenes provisions of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) which emphasises on the need to use public resources for the intended purposes and also Local Government Act (LGA) which prohibits officers from acting in a way that causes the council to suffer disruption of operations.
Reads the memo in part: “Council resources are meant to be used for development activities at the grassroots for the benefit of local communities. Hence, the practice of diverting not only deprives the citizenry development projects but also contravenes the Public Finance Management Act.
“You are, therefore, called upon to desist from the practice of being lured by political party functionaries to use council resources to support political activities. Failure to respect this directive will result in meting out of disciplinary actions as stipulated in the PFMA and LGA.”
The ministry has since warned city council chief executive officers (CEOs) and district commissioners (DCs) to discontinue the practice of using the council resources to support political party activities.
Recent findings of a Local Government Accountability and Performance (LGAP) assessment showed that half of the country’s 35 local government councils have serious financial issues and audit queries on their expenditure.
In an interview on the development, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kondwani Nankhumwa said he directed Dakamau to issue the memo after noting increased abuse of public resources in city and district councils.
He said: “Government will not condone abuse of public resources by officers who want to serve individual political party interests. We have noted an escalation of abuse of public resources for political ends in most district and city councils.
“My ministry will reinforce discipline to protect the interests of taxpayers and ensure that funds and other resources allocated to the councils are meant to serve the people and improve service delivery.”
On action to be taken against controlling officers failing to adhere to the directive, Nankhumwa said based on the outcome of the disciplinary hearing and the gravity of the issues such officers must expect either to be surcharged, suspended, interdicted or indeed dismissed.
But reacting to the memo, one of the human rights defenders Gift Trapence, who has been championing the campaign against misuse of public resources, said while it was a welcome move by the ministry to warn the officers, the same should also be extended to all MDAs, including Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) and Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera).
He said: “Again, it should not just be on paper, but we want real action to be demonstrated. What has been promised should be enforced and implemented.”
There have also been incidents of governing political parties siphoning money from parastatal organisations for their activities.
Last week, the High Court of Malawi dismissed an application by the DPP to discharge a case where five civil society organisations (CSOs) dragged the party to court to reimburse K13.5 million solicited from city councils and a water board during the party’s fundraising dinner and dance dubbed Blue Night last July where President Peter Mutharika was the guest of honour.