Minister of Local Government, Ben Phiri this week angered fellow Members of Parliament (MPs), when he blamed them for being part of the rot in city, town, municipal and district councils.
Ben Phiri was responding to concerns raised by MPs when they were making contributions to a report by the Public Accounts Committee on accounts of the local councils for the years ended June 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015.
Among others, Ben Phiri observed that MPs are part of the local councils, therefore if the councils are rotten; the lawmakers need to share the blame.
He was dead right, especially when he fingered the MPs on corruption: “…most of our MPs have an appetite to get too involved in the procurement [process] itself when the money that we use for CDF is subjected to Finance Management Act as well as Audit Act. I was requesting them to allow civil servants to do their work, to follow the procurement procedures, that’s when we can curb corruption than for us to be preaching of corruption to do with civil servants when us as MPs are part of the same.”
Some lawmakers, who think they are above the law, have accused the minister of making a blanket statement that they were corrupt. Of course some are clean, but most of them must look themselves in the mirror.
They must take responsibility for the mess in most councils, especially when by supreme law they have no right to be near council activities like procurement.
To be frank, MPs are fully fledged members of local councils with full voting powers because of greed. They wanted the council role so badly they had to rape the Republican Constitution by amending the Local Government Act 2010 so that they have voting rights at the council.
According to a report commissioned by the Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD), MPs, among other reasons, they needed to have voting rights within local councils because they did not take council meetings seriously since by having no voting rights and the Local Government Act did not recognise them as full members of the assembly.
Some MPs also felt that since they, just like councillors, are elected and are accountable to the same grass-root communities they should also have powers at local council.
MPs felt that by having voting rights they would fully participate in the development of the constituencies through council meetings.
Yet apart from taking part in electing ineffective mayors, the MPs are at the centre of messing up CDF and other project funds. Local Development Fund (LDF) is as good as dead because of the altitude of some MPs.
If our lawmakers do not want to be held accountable for the mess in our councils, perhaps it is time they are stripped of their voting rights at council level.
After all, one analysis by the National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust found MP’s arguments that they should have a role at the council flawed.
Nice Trust argues that it does not make any sense at all that MPs or any other individual for that matter should not take council meetings or any council undertakings seriously simply because they do not have voting rights in council meetings.
“Councils need to be taken seriously and fully supported by MPs and all Malawians because they are an important part of Malawi’s democracy. Even more importantly, giving MPs voting rights within local councils violates what the Republican Constitution, the supreme law of Malawi, provides,” it argues.
It points to the Malawi Constitution, in Sections 146 (4) and 147(1) (2) and (3) which clearly stipulates who shall be full members of local councils.
“These sections provide that local government authorities shall consist of elected local government officers; Chiefs in the area of jurisdiction of the local government authorities and administrative personnel subordinate to the local councillors who shall be required to execute and administer the lawful resolutions of and policies of those councillors.
“The Malawi Constitution currently applicable does not name MPs among the groups that constitute the local government authorities,” reads a Nice Trust analysis.
To us on the streets, it makes a lot of sense that the Constitution left out MPs as members of councils since they already have a forum to influence national decisions and policies that affect their constituents.
MPs gave themselves voting rights in local councils when they amended the Local Government Act. They should not run away from their responsibilities now.