Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development has appealed to the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament to ensure that the National Assembly does not tamper with the District Development Fund (DDF).
DDF is used to implement development projects at the district council level.
Recently, there has been animosity between councillors who are directly responsible for monitoring and implementing district development plans and members of Parliament (MPs) who feel they have no control over how the fund is administered.
During debate on the 2016/17 National Budget in Parliament, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe came under pressure from legislators to reduce funding to the DDF in favour of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
The ministry officials appeared before the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament yesterday to respond to queries on the performance of the 2015/16 budget and outlook for 2016/17.
Leading the team, the ministry’s principal secretary Stuart Ligomeka said the CDF was introduced to relieve the DDF and not necessarily to replace it because the district development plan was responding to the national development plan as outlined in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS).
He bemoaned political interference in the implementation of the DDF, saying it was becoming difficult for councils to embark on projects because politicians wanted developments in their areas yet the CDF was responsible for minor constituency projects while the DDF caters for major infrastructure projects such as roads and school blocks.
Said Ligomeka: “There is chaos at the local level now because development plans are not answering to the national plans. Malawi is lagging behind on infrastructure development compared to the Southern African region because of such confusion. CDF was meant to take care of small projects and the equalisation fund was the DDF. If we turn DDF into CDF, we are not doing justice to the nation.”
Budget and Finance Committee vice-chairperson John Chikalimba told the ministry officials that misunderstandings on managing local funds arose following the coming in of councillors who would like to use projects to get re-elected or elected as MPs.
Gondwe allocated K3.3 billion to DDF in the 2016/17 National Budget and refused to be pressurised into reducing it, claiming that it would be an illegal move.
Apart from the DDF, about K8 billion was allocated to road construction in councils in addition to K36 billion spread across the councils.
Director of Local Government Services in the ministry, Kiswell Dakamau, said already the allocation to local councils was less than one percent of the national budget, which was a mockery of the decentralisation process.
He said Kenya and Rwanda have devolved control of funding from the central government to councils by an average of 35 percent compared to Malawi.
Councils operate various funds among them, DDF and Local Development Fund (LDF) of which 97 percent is donor funded.
In the 2016/17 National Budget, K34 billion will go towards LDF and government will transfer K36 billion to local councils whose major beneficiary is the education sector, which will get K9 billion followed by the health sector, which will get K7.2 billion.