It seems there is an obsessive wave across local councils of increasing market fees. Several councils, it appears, are convinced that vendors plying their trade in the local authorities’ markets should cough more for the favour.
Well, the vendors don’t think so. In Mzuzu, there was a drawn out battle between the council and the traders until a compromise was reached.
In Chitipa, for several weeks, vendors refused to pay the service fees until negotiations ended the impasse.
The capital city, Lilongwe, had to endure a similar conflict. There are more cases across the country of citizens protesting payment of market and other service fees to councils.
And I don’t blame them.
As both the central government and local governments grapple with revenue gaps, their solution has been either to introduce new ways of skimming people or increasing existing fees and charges.
It is a tax-and-spend strategy that is irking people largely because citizens do not see the benefits of paying so much to Capital Hill and councils when service delivery is at its worst.
I have been to Chitipa Boma, for example, and the market in particular. While the council wants to cash-in on the market, there is little that the local authority has invested in the facility to warrant its greedy behaviour.
There is no running water, sanitation infrastructure is almost non-existent and the waste disposal or management system is as foul as the waste it is supposed to handle. Similar terrible service delivery is the order of the day in Mzuzu, Lilongwe and other councils.
How long and how much should the citizens pay before they get decent services from their local governments?
Across councils, reports of financial abuse abound. No one remembers the last time the councils were audited as the free-for-all plunder rages on.
The National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) is just a hopeless loose network of professional accountants and economists that is as inept as the situation in councils.
To be fair, NLGFC has managed to put in place systems to ensure checks and balances in councils.
But the committee is too weak to enforce its mandate, let alone have teeth to bite. They have heaps and heaps of audit reports showing abuse at councils, but they cannot move anyone to act.
My point is that trying to raise revenue is good only if the money is being spent to anchor service delivery and is used for intended purposes.
It is on record that 30 percent of government revenue in Malawi goes down the drain—translated to mean people’s personal pockets—through dubious procurement, inflated invoices and outright fraud of paying for goods no body delivered, among other equally nefarious tricks.
That was confirmed by the findings of the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) examination of public finances from January 1 2009 to December 31 2014, a data data analysis that has culminated into a 52-page report titled Final Analysis Report: Reconstruction of the Malawi Government Cashbook for Purposes of Further Investigation.
That report, among other thing things, says the total value of payments on the bank statement during the five-year period amounted to K 1.85 trillion, of which K577. 2 billion could not be accounted for.
That unaccounted for money represents roughly 31 percent of what was recorded as expenditure during the reviewed period.
Imagine if the K577 million was utilised in the right way, would we be wringing our hands at the donor aid withdrawal?
Come to think of it, if some people in government and their co-conspirators had not stolen this money, donors would still be with us, probably providing more budgetary support to the country.
The K577 billion alone would wipe out the current domestic debt stock and clear all arrears to the private sector, thereby providing the wealth generators the working capital they need to sustain and grow their businesses, create more jobs and pay even more taxes to government.
Even at council level, if they used the current revenue levels prudently, they would not need to increase things like market fees or if they did, they would not get the angry protests they receive today from people because citizens would be able to see the fruits of their compliance.
So, our fiscal problems in this country are not that we do not raise enough revenue. We do. The problem is that we do not spend the revenue, well nay; we abuse the revenue for personal gain not for the benefit of the greater good.
So, before local and central governments begin to think about raising more revenue, they should first worry about closing the loopholes that lead to financial waste. Otherwise, government will continue to behave like the idiot who puts his bucket that is open at the bottom under tap of water and waits for it to fill to the bream, ready to carry it home.
Any right thinking member of society would tell that will be a long wait at the tap.