In this interview EPHRAIM NYONDO talks to chairperson of Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) Steve Duwa on whether the country is prepared for the return of councillors.
Q: During the elections this May, Malawians will vote for councillors. So far, how do you assess the level of public debate and discussion regarding increasing awareness on the need of councillors in the country?
A: So far there is not much said and as usual focus and interest is on presidential and parliamentary candidates. This situation has remained so despite Mesn’s attempt to ignite debate on election of ward councillors.
Q: Currently, there are a number of unresolved issues such as the question of how councillors will work. There are issues of their working without salaries, their being seen as competing with MPs and, again, unresolved conflicts with other stakeholders like chiefs and technocrats. Do you think councillors will effectively deliver with these unresolved issues?
Some of the issues raised are challenges which indeed will impact negatively on the performance of the would-be councillors. We believe this can only be resolved by reverting to the pre-2010 Local Government Act, which clearly articulated the roles of MPs, chiefs and councillors in the district council. The other issues, too, require political will to push for incentives for councillors. There is no way we can expect councillors to work pro-bono when MPs, who are also representing people, are being paid. We seriously need to address this issue before going to the polls on May 20 2014. Putting in place attractive incentives for councillors would also attract better quality candidates for these positions. It is our responsibility as a country to speak out and lobby government and Parliament to seriously look into the plight of councillors.
As Mesn, what are you doing to make sure that councillors work effectively?
We are already doing a lot on these councillors. The campaign for Local Government Elections (LGE)—now turned into Tripartite Elections—was, among others, championed by Mesn because we realise that the development agenda at the local level can best be attained only, and only, if we have local councillors. Mesn has lately embarked on sensitising the masses, including those who want to contest as councillors, to the roles of councillors, MPs, chiefs and citizens. This is meant to prepare the aspiring councillors to focus on their key roles and responsibilities. Even now, Mesn members are implementing issue-based civic and voter education campaign with funding from DfID through the National Democratic Institute (NDI) focusing on local councillors because we realise councillors are very important. After elections, it is the wish of Mesn to be involved in building capacity of the elected councillors as they take up their new positions. As Mesn, we are also supporting a media campaign to garner support for the councillors, once elected.
There were concerns from Pacenet and NGO-GCN regarding the failure of female candidates in the ongoing primary elections. What is it that Mesn is doing to make sure that at least, we have a number of female councillors?
Both Pacenet and NGO-Gender Coordinating Network (NGO-GCN) are members of Mesn and sit in the board where critical decisions are made. Although the 50-50 campaign is being championed by eight organisations forming the women in politics and decision-making thematic group, Mesn would want the whole 50-50 national campaign being supported by everybody and all stakeholders involved currently in the electoral process.
Q: Anything you would want to add?
Let us realise that the future development of this country depends on the correct choice we are to make on May 20 2014. Let us vote for candidates who are honest, have a good track record, are committed and not corrupt.