Lilongwe City Council (LCC) is in a tight spot over plans to pull down illegal structures following an order allegedly from the Deputy Minister of Local Government Halima Daudi not to implement the decision.
LCC resolved to demolish all structures constructed illegally in undesignated spaces, but the exercise has stalled allegedly following an eleventh-hour intervention by Daudi.
Through the Town Planning Committee (TPC) and Development Committee, LCC issued notices to illegal property owners, giving them up to July 15 2021 to vacate the premises earmarked for demolition.
While describing reports of interference as “falsehoods”, Daudi confirmed to Weekend Nation having intervened on the matter, claiming it was after some property developers lodged a complaint with her ministry over the impending demolition exercise.
“I have never stopped the demolition. I only met them and toured the structures to appreciate what was being talked about and what the council was doing. I never made any verdict on whether to proceed with the exercise or not,” Daudi said in an interview on Tuesday.
She said while LCC has its own plans, “it could not have taken action without the ministry appreciating what was on the ground”.
“When the ministry received the complaints from owners of the structures, we thought it was important to visit them first, which we did, but we are yet to map the way forward,” said Daudi.
The targeted structures for demolition are around Bwaila Hospital, in Falls Estate around Simama Hotel, opposite Lilongwe Girls’ Primary School and also near Banja La Mtsogolo and Lilongwe Community ground.
The structures were allegedly constructed on illegal places and in some instances owners the council did not authorise their building plans.
Daudi was scheduled to meet LCC officials, councillors and owners of the illegal structures on Tuesday for the way forward but failed due to her other official engagements.
LCC mayor Juliana Kaduya confirmed to Weekend Nation the Town Planning and Development Committees jointly made a resolution to demolish the structures.
She explained: “We have different committees that make decisions and report to the full council meeting for either noting or approval. For this issue the TPC indeed resolved to demolish the structures.
“However, since TPC does not report to the full council, the Development Committee also visited the structures separately to appreciate the issue and made its own resolution.
“But some differences of opinion arose between the two committees so it was arranged that they conduct a joint visit and come up with a shared resolution and they eventually agreed to proceed with the demolitions.”
The mayor said notices of demolition were then issued to owners while awaiting an endorsement by the full council meeting. This meeting was scheduled for July 5 but was deferred to an unknown date.
She also confirmed being summoned by the deputy minister alongside the LCC chief executive officer, director of planning and director of engineering where Daudi told them of her intention to tour and appreciate the structures first.
“So, last Friday the tour took place but I was up in the North for some official duties … and as such I wasn’t part of the team that toured the structures. I am also yet to be briefed on what exactly transpired,” she said.
But Kaduya said in as far as the council’s position was concerned, the demolition exercise would still proceed.
One of the councillors who spoke on condition of anonymity, wondered why the deputy minister wanted interfere in the matter when the council which has the mandate on such issues already made a resolution on the matter.
“The council already made decisions, notices were issued and we now question the deputy minister’s interests. Her actions are raising eyebrows,” he said.
Malawi Local Government Association (Malga) executive director Hadrod Mkandawire said they were aware of resistance from Capital Hill not to demolish the structures, although they were yet to be officially informed.
“This is very unfortunate and as an association we would urge the council to proceed and act according to the law and their mandate without undue pressure or interference from any other quarters,” he said.
Mkandawire said his association had engaged LCC, but were yet to get a conclusive position on the matter, adding: “We wouldn’t accept political interference to continue.”
This development is coming at a time, unlike other councils across the country, when LCC has been known over the years for its unrelenting stance on demolishing illegal structures once developers fail to comply with regulations.
Recent examples include a warehouse owned by an Indian businessperson, which bordered Livimbo Primary School in Area 2 and illegal shops in Area 49 along the Bingu National Stadium on Area 25 Road.
As we went to press, LCC had not responded to our questionnaire despite several reminders.
Last week, Malga, which is an umbrella body of all local governments in the country, also decried political interference in the councils.
Malga made the lamentation in its statement of ‘Reflection on Decentralisation and Local Governance in Malawi: One Year Under the Tonse Administration’, which was jointly signed by Mkandawire and Malga president Wild Ndipo.
In the assessment, Malga observed the public sector reforms being championed by Tonse Alliance administration would thrive due to “continued and unwarranted” interference by politicians and technocrats in the councils’ mandate and operations.
During the run-up to the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections and afterwards, there were reports of massive land invasions by people claiming to have political backing and some of them are currently answering charges in courts.
The illegal construction combined with the poor planning of the buildings including houses has also been identified as a major cause of flooding during rainy season in Lilongwe City.
Six years ago, the Blantyre City Council through the ‘Red Star Campaign’ announced it had made legal what could have been the first ever massive demolition exercise of about 380 buildings in Limbe and Blantyre, but nothing happened.