There are mixed views on whether government should prioritise Constituency Development Fund (CDF) or District Development Fund (DDF). Members of Parliament (MPs) have been agitating for elimination of the DDF, trimming the allocation to K12 million ($16 438) from K18 million ($24 658). Our reporter FATSANI GUNYA engages Malawi Local Government Association (Malga) deputy president, Mayor William Mkandawire of Mzuzu City, for his views on the debate regarding the development funds. Excerpts.
Mkandawire: MPs take CDF as their money
What is Malga’s reaction to the reduction of the DDF allocation?
Malga learnt with shock and regret the sentiments made by Members of Parliament regarding the DDF. During the just ended budget meeting, some MPs agitated for the removal of DDF in preference of CDF. To put the record straight, government started implementing DDF last year with a modest amount of K5 billion. This amount has produced tangible development projects in councils. Bridges and other projects have been built within the one year that DDF has been in operation. DDF is the only fund which is discussed by the whole council. By contrast, the CDF has been in existence for many years. If you go on the ground, there is nothing to show. This fund is being heavily abused by MPs. It is never discussed by the council. The MPs treat this fund as personal money. Unless proper accountability mechanisms for this fund are put in place, the increase will not mean anything in terms of development.
Did you engage government on this stand?
Malga was, therefore, disappointed, and remains so, that despite its plea to government to increase DDF, it has actually reduced the fund. The reduction comes at a time when there are strong concerns from various quarters that the fund is not adequate. Local authorities play a central role in the daily lives of people and provide facilities that are crucial for socio-economic development: water, sanitation, education and primary health. Strengthening the capacities of local authorities through adequate funding is, therefore, an essential requirement for successful development projects. Strengthening local authorities, however, is only possible when their needs and ambitions are met. Therefore, Malga views this reduction as lack of commitment on the part of central government and MPs towards fiscal decentralisation.
Why do you feel Parliament erred in reducing the allocation for DDF?
Firstly, I guess we need to understand a bit of the background of Malga. We are an association of all district, city, municipal and town councils in the country. The association has been in existence since 1966 under the name Association of local government authorities in Malawi [Algam]. It became Malga in 2001 after being restructured in response to the decentralisation and democratisation process. Following this change, Malga was registered in 2004 under Trustees Incorporation Act as an independent organisation. Malga represents and promotes the interests of all local authorities by advocating good local governance, improving financial base and service delivery in order for the local Authorities to be democratic, sustainable, efficient and effective.
What was your expectation as Malga?
Having started with about K 5 billion in the 2015/16 budget, we expected government to double this fund for the ongoing financial year. Unfortunately, most of the MPs view this fund as that of councillors. This is wrong because these resources are not for councillors, but for councils. They are supposed to facilitate development in their areas. As an association committed to deepening decentralisation as one of the key strategies of entrenching democracy and ensuring that local authorities deliver responsive, efficient and quality services to the people they serve, we feel it is imperative for the central government to ensure that one of the prerequisites of decentralisation is fully realised. Government must ensure that the councils have adequate resources to adequately provide social services and implement development projects. It is that simple. It is either we have that as a country or this decentralisation agenda remains some lip service!
Are you saying government is not serious with decentralisation?
It depends. Just before the MPs voted for the reduction of the councils’ funds, Minister of Information, Communication Technology and Civic Education, Patricia Kaliati [on June 17 2016 in Parliament] made a statement in response to the call to have CDF raised from the current K12 million to K25 million. She pointed out that the DDF is a symbol of successful decentralisation. If the MPs cannot help the fund to become vibrant and successful, where Parliament missed it is for you and me to guess and speculate. The legislators, in their action, did undermine a key democracy decentralisation structure.
What does this mean in terms of development?
It actually doesn’t add up on where we want to head as a nation. The lack of commitment is perhaps because of the negative perception that the government and MPs have about this fund. Decisions as to how these resources should be utilised rests with council where MPs are also members and they take part in decision-making. So, we can exist as parallel structures, but working together on one common goal of building Malawi. Malga remains disappointed that the DDF, a symbol of decentralisation, has been sidelined in preference of CDF which is personal money for MPs. This goes against the public sector reforms which the government is pursuing. Most functions have devolved to councils but funds have not been devolved. This is counterproductive to decentralisation.