The councils at district, municipal, town and city level play a critical role in development aspects ranging from passing appropriate policies, development plans, budget, initiating development projects and mobilising resources to ensuring effective implementation of those development projects.
For development to reach the poor, government needs well functioning councils and the role of councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs) in these councils is important for service delivery.
That is why government has in recent years increased the amount of funds transferred to councils in an attempt to broaden and deepen centralisation.
Over the past 50 years, most councils cried foul for being weak and starved for resources due to, inter-alia, the reliance on central government grants, which had been on the decline and were disbursed erratically.
The shortage of finances meant support structures for councils such as markets, bus depots and rest houses deteriorated and could not generate revenue for effective running of the councils.
Coupled with lack of effective information systems, inadequate and inappropriate skills and techniques for efficient revenue mobilisation our councils were doomed to fail one day.
However, recognising the important role of councils, government has in the recent past been pumping a lot of money into councils using the vehicle Local Development Fund (LDF). In the 2018/19 financial year alone, the central government transferred at least K219 billion or 16 percent of the K1.4 trillion spending plan to councils.
The idea is to make councils more effective so that they can deliver better services and improve our lives.
In the words of Mustafa Kennedy Hussein in his paper Local Governance in Malawi – sighs and sobs in District Councils published last year, councils have a responsibility to create a physical and social environment within which residents of councils can attain improved general welfare and a good life.
Our lives, ladies and gentlemen, depend on councils for land management, good housing, water, good roads and for other infrastructure that make our lives better. Councils functions extend beyond the provision of services to the social wellbeing of the community.
But if the report published on Wednesday October 10 in our sister paper The Nation is anything to go by, Malawians should really be scared with the rot that is rocking the 28 local councils.
The paper quotes a National Audit Office (NAO) report which shows that councils across the country may have mismanaged over K20 billion in fiscal years ending June 30 2015 and 2016.
The audit report has found six major loopholes through which the billions of taxpayers’ money may have been wasted. The loopholes are so common in all the 28 councils, but Mangochi is the worst.
While we on the streets agree that councils are understaffed most of these councils are being mismanaged by politicians with the help of the council managers especially the DC.
Some of these officials have overstayed in government and are the ones who are so in effective and are hardly in the office to oversee operations of the councils.
If truth be told, most of our councils are on auto-pilot and the rot will continue due to lack of accountability.
Government must arrest irresponsible DCs and their managers, including politicians, who meddle with council affairs. After 2019, the new government must drain the swamp in local councils.
Malawians deserve better.