Parliament has moved to defuse the tension that ensued with the Malawi Local Government Association (Malga) over proposals that legislators should control management of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) amid concerns of abuse in councils.
Chitipa South legislator Werani Chilenga (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP) yesterday withdrew his private member’s motion proposing that CDF should be under the custody of Parliament and not local government councils.
In an interview, the member of Parliament (MP) confirmed withdrawing the motion seen in other quarters as having the potential to widen conflict between legislators tasked with making laws and councillors as custodians of local development.
Chilenga said his decision followed a discussion he had with Deputy Minister of Local Government Halima Daudi to pave the way for dialogue on how to improve the administration of CDF, currently pegged at K40 million per year for each of the 193 constituencies.
“When we come up with a motion like that we are doing it for the people. So, the minister spoke to me and explained what she thinks of the motion and it is for that reason that I have temporarily withdrawn the motion to give dialogue a chance,” he said.
In a telephone interview, Daudi said she had initiated dialogue with Chilenga on the matter; hence, the motion would not be presented in the House.
She said it was her ministry’s desire to have MPs and councillors work together cordially in the interest of the people they serve.
Daudi said she has also engaged Malga on the issue.
Malga had expressed displeasure with the motion, arguing that it undermined the devolution of power to have MPs have a bigger say in the administration of CDF.
The fight followed a report by an ad hoc parliamentary committee which reviewed the administration of CDF through local government councils. The report noted several shortfalls in the management of CDF as well as borehole fund and proposed that parliamentarians should take over control.
Reacting to the issue, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) national coordinator Boniface Chibwana feared that the proposed transfer of CDF from local authorities to Parliament had the potential to heighten the tension between MPs and councils.
He said harmonising all local funding baskets into one consolidated funding line for control, coordination and monitoring was critical to checking reported cases of abuse of the funds.
In a written response, Asiyatu Chiweza, associate professor of administrative studies at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said transferring management of CDF to Parliament was not a solution to challenges dogging the fund.
She also observed that the withdrawn motion was contrary to principles of decentralisation which Parliament approved in 1998.
Chiweza, who has extensively researched on matters of decentralisation and local government, said several studies have shown that CDF is abused. She said that as a result, there is no accountability for the money and the results of the same.
She said: “By being part of the voted expenditure in the national budget, CDF is supposed to be governed and regulated by the Malawi Public Finance Management Regulatory Framework which includes the Public Finance Management Act of 2003, the Procurement Act, and the Audit Act of 2003.
“Being public funds meant to facilitate local development subject them to local governments as cost centres to be accountable for how they utilise resources assigned to them within the legal frameworks governing the management of public funds.
“DCs/CEs are therefore supposed to control the disbursement of funds and are accountable to Parliament for all local authority votes.”
Chiweza observed that MPs tend to feel a sense of entitlement on CDF because they negotiated for its introduction, a situation she said hampers effective management of the fund by controlling officers.
In its statement co-signed by Malga president and Blantyre City Mayor Wild Ndipo and acting executive director Hadrod Mkandawire, Malga argued that it was hypocritical for the committee to squarely blame councils for poor administration of CDF when previous audit reports revealed that MPs were involved in the abuse of CDF.
“We would have loved if the Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee could have included in the report the extent to which parliamentarians abuse these public funds,” reads the statement in part.
Malga based its argument on the 2017 audit report which was presented in the National Assembly and showed that 20 MPs were implicated in alleged CDF abuse.
Two weeks ago, Public Appointments Committee (PAC) of Parliament chairperson Shadreck Namalomba presented findings of a special audit of CDF which faulted some current and former MPs of abusing CDF.
Without mentioning the alleged culprits, he called on law enforcement agencies to prosecute the concerned MPs to deter others.
In its findings, the ad hoc committee, among other things, noted that councils ignored guidelines and used funds for unintended purposes.
The committee cited Chikwawa and Nkhata Bay as some of the cases.
In Chikwawa, the report said, it was indicated that “CDF resources amounting to over K30 million were diverted for settlement of hospital bills and installation of chiefs” while in Nkhata Bay K33 million was spent on the installation of chiefs and allowances for ministerial visits contrary to CDF guidelines.
The Ad Hoc Parliamentary Committee report presented by its chairperson and Mangochi Monkey Bay lawmaker Ralph Jooma proposed: “That all district and city councils should open and maintain separate CDF current accounts for smooth management of the fund as provided for in the current guidelines.
“The Parliament of Malawi should recruit CDF desk officers to be stationed at all local councils to be handling all CDF matters at the councils.”
CDF was introduced in 2006 to facilitate development in constituencies, but it has been prone to abuse with several audit reports highlighting weak accountability and management tools.
Currently, at least six legislators are under investigation over alleged mismanagement of CDF while former Mzimba Hora MP Christopher Mzomera Ngwira was last year convicted for abuse of CDF resources.