- Although Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe has presented a budget which, at first glance seems to receive considerable support as it focuses on economic growth and wealth creation as a means of poverty reduction, concerns have been raised about the lack of support for democratic governance institutions.
Malawi's government has allocated 46.8%, the bulk of its budget to Agriculture, Health and Education and has largely sidelined institutions tasked with ensuring the state maintains integrity in democratic governance. Of concern is the continued inability of government to give sufficient importance to the Local Government structures through the holding of election which are long overdue.
“Government is acting completely with impunity as it disregards the laws of the land. The Constitution and the laws that determine governance are being ignored and we risk being accused of returning to lawlessness so far as democracy is concerned,” a political analyst said after hearing how the budget has been focus on the social sector alone, largely ignoring governance.
Although there has been commitment by Parliament to hold the local polls in the 2006-2007 budget years, the pledge is not binding and is reflected in the absence of an additional K3 billion that the Malawi Electoral Commission is seeking to hold the polls.
“Government continues to show a lack of seriousness in holding the local poll even though there is sufficient support for them by the German government and other bilateral donors,” the analyst, who preferred to remain anonymous, said.
Additionally, a leading expert on decentralisation has said Malawi’s decentralisation process is in shambles and risks derailment because the government undertook the process without detailed research or sufficient funding.
This warning comes barely months before the government kicks off the much touted second phase of decentralisation to run from 2007 to 2010 having unsuccessfully completed the first phase which runs from 2005 to 2007.
The expert, who asked for anonymity said decentralisation in Malawi is not working speedily enough and has since asked the government to hold back the launch of the second phase of the decentralisation process.
“The government is now preparing to kick off the second phase of decentralisation on the premise that Phase One has been successful. Budget devolution started in 2005. District Education officers are to have become part of the assemblies. Additionally, ten ministries are supposed to devolve their budgets to local assemblies. There is no progress,” said the expert.
The expert said some ministries that are attempting the decentralisation process are Ministry of Health and Population, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Trade and Private Sector Development, Ministry of Water & Irrigation, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services, the Office of the President and Cabinet as well as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs.
Out of these, he said, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services are making steady progress in the devolution to assemblies.
He said the concept was that ministries were supposed to abolish regional offices in order to strengthen district offices which would now be reporting directly to Capital Hill, the seat of government in Lilongwe.
He said so far, it is only the Ministry of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services which has dissolved its regional offices.
“District Social Welfare offices and District Community Development offices now belong to assemblies but their files are still at Capital Hill. They still get their pay from their ministries instead of the assemblies. As of now, they do not have budgets, there are no activities because there was no formal handover,” said the expert.
Another problem, the expert said, is that district commissioners are at lower grades than some government officials who are supposed to be below the commissioners.
“DCs should be at the levels of P2 or P3 not at P4. There are situations where DCs are below heads of departments. It presupposes bodies and positions should devolve from Capital Hill to district assemblies,” he said.
Ministries refused to comment on the matter and referred all decentralisation issues to the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development.
The Minister of Local Government and Rural Development George Chaponda Chaponda dismissed as untrue that decentralisation is not working effectively in Malawi.
He said the participation of local people at grass root level is high through village development committees where people air their views on what development they would like to have in their areas.
He said those views are taken to district executive committee level where they conduct consultative meeting together with Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), chiefs and MPs under the District Development Fund.
He said decentralisation is moving fast, saying the first phase of decentralisation has been a success citing that people were paid K200 each under European Union programme, K43 under MASAF, empowering people through Malawi Rural Development Fund (MARDEF), One Village One Product (OVOP), mushroom projects taking place in Dowa, Chitipa and Neno in Mwanza.
“What more do you want?” he wondered.
The minister acknowledge that the Ministry of Gender has dissolved regional offices in line with decentralisation and that district offices have no budget citing the example of Nkhota-kota where he visited saying they are no vehicles.
He assured: “The problem will be rectified soon. Yes they have no money but they have been empowered.”
He urged MPs to fight for people whom they are representing in parliament.
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