New guidelines for the implementation of Constituency Development Fund (CDF) projects are facing resistance from local councils who feel they defeat the spirit of decentralisation.
During an annual conference for a forum for directors of finance in councils called Financial Managers Network held in Salima on Friday, the directors pointed out that the new guidelines provide for recruitment of desk officers to manage CDF yet there is no clarity on how to recruit them.
One of the directors said: “What will be recruitment procedure for these desk officers? What qualifications do they need to have? We are talking of an office that has been given a huge responsibility yet there are no guidelines on recruitment procedure and requirement.”
The guidelines, which we have seen, indicate that the local councils should recruit a liaison officer to work as a desk officer for CDF and Water Resource Fund (WRF).
Some of the responsibilities of the desk officer include coordinating all issues relating to CDF projects, act as a link between members of Parliament (MPs) and district commissioners or chief executive officers of councils on submissions of project proposals and payment requisitions, liaising with the MP as well as procuring and disposing entities (PDEs) on procurement processes and preparing monthly, quarterly and annual financial reports.
The directors of finance argued that based on the functions of the desk officer, this required someone with sound education not only in finance, but also project management, as such, need for clear guidance on recruitment procedure since the office is quite central to management of funds and projects.
Malawi Local Government Association executive director Hadrod Mkandawire said councils have a right to reject the guidelines as they contradict the spirit of decentralisation.
He said the role of the desk officers was not clear and noted that their job description was redundant.
Mkandawire said: “All these functions assigned to the desk officer are what councils are already doing. We have critical vacancies worth filling that can improve performance of councils.
“Councils need internal auditors and most councils do not have directors of public works and even directors of finance. We do not think we need these desk officers.
“The National Local Government Finance Committee has designated officers in all councils who are a link between councils and the central government. So, surely the desk officer’s role is unnecessary.”
The meeting also questioned the role of MPs under the new guidelines which they feel give the legislators more control on CDF.
Under the guidelines the MP has the responsibility to ensure that projects implemented are in line with set plans and standard design and bills of quantity. Release of funds is supposed to take place only with a request from MPs.
Mkandawire described the CDF guidelines as another ploy by the central government to undermine local authorities.
In written response, the Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency said the new guidelines are reinforcing politicisation of CDF and should be rejected.
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) national coordinator Boniface Chibwana said in an interview the concerns from local councils were justified.
He said: “One of the major challenges in local development is politicisation of projects and the new guidelines are a clear manifestation of the same. We need a complete reworking of the new guidelines and people should participate on the same otherwise past myriad challenges locking slow pace of tangible results in local projects will continue.”
Ministry of Local Government Principal Secretary James Chiusiwa was yet to respond to our questionnaire.
Government has disbursed about K2.3 billion in CDF for the first quarter of the current financial year, which translates to K25 million for every constituency.