By Mathews Chione
On 17 July 2017; I attended a Seminar organised by Public Affairs Committee (PAC) at T&D lodge in Zomba. The main aim of the Seminar was to brief the Media practitioners on the efforts being done to make sure that the Local Government (Amendment) bill of 2015 passes into law.
Listening to the opening speech of PAC Publicity Secretary Father Peter Mulomole, I nearly shed a tear seeing the man of God lamenting on the passiveness of we Malawians when it comes to issues that affect us most. The man of God was speaking with zeal, determination and at times emotional; sending Media personnel and other participants into dead silence.
The Local Government (Amendment) bill of 2015 might be tabled in Parliament this coming November. This bill once passed into law shall mean Members of Parliament ceasing voting at Council meetings, the Minister of Local government relinquishing the appointment of District Commissioners to Councils, and thirdly the inclusion of women and youth in the decision making of the Councils. The first two provisions prove to be the stickiest issues that make the passing of the bill a battle equivalent to Mfecane. Members of Parliament are showing resistance to the bill and its success in Parliament hinges in balance.
To begin with; under the current setting, Members of Parliament sit and vote at Council meetings. (This arrangement came because at one point Malawi had no Councillors for almost 10 years not that it is supported by any law). According to a brochure by PAC titled ‘Local Governance and Local Government Reforms’; Malawi is one of a few countries in Africa which not only have Members of Parliament on the Council but have full voting rights as the substantive councillors. This arrangement is illegal and unconstitutional; it defeats the whole purpose of separation of powers between the Executive and the Legislature as Sections 7 and 8 ofthe Constitution state.
Members of Parliament belong to the Legislature and Councillors to the Executive. Therefore, it is unconstitutional for the Legislature to authorise a budget for the Executive in the National Assembly and being the ones implementing that budget at the local level. Section 146(2) gives that authority to the Local Government Authorities and for the legislature to do this is taking away the responsibility of the other arm of the government. This is where our Members of Parliament do not understand or they choose deliberately not to understand yet they are the ones who enact these laws.
Their arguments that Councillors lack the necessary skills and competency to initiate big projects is flawed and without substance. Show me fifty incompetent Councillors and I will show you the same number of incompetent Members of Parliament who are just passengers in that August house.
You cannot violate the Constitution simply because you think someone is incompetent therefore you should do his/ her job. It is what Sections 5 and 199 state that the Constitution is supreme that matters. If the Constitution has not given you powers don’t derive them illegally.
This bill if passed into law shall mean transparency in the handling of Constituency Development Fund; which today is shrouded in controversy and secrecy. Those who argue that this fund is a pocket money for Members of Parliament have a point. Do MPs not organise football tournaments using this fund? Let’s not hide the truth; this is the only reason that explains why these Parliamentarians will not support this good bill; they are afraid of losing this ‘pocket money.’
But this is the dilemma we Malawians are in. How then do we enact laws that benefit us when the laws are going to affect the very same people whose task is to enact them? Imagine a Judge presiding on a case where his employer is refusing to give him a pay rise. Certainly a third party would be the best option. If this bill is going to be turned down Malawians are going to be the losers for this bill is not benefitting any group but Malawians. Those who will be against this bill let them give Malawians valid justification; if it is not greedy. This is the battle we Malawians have to win at all cost to have efficient councils.
It is therefore the argument of this article that if this good bill is voted against in Parliament, we should hold a simple and cost less referendum on this good bill. PAC, the Law Society of Malawi should organise this referendum, moreover Section 196 of the Constitution gives us that opportunity. It should been enacted as a Constitutional amendment to Section 146 giving Councillors the sole responsibility of voting at Council meetings and taking these Members of Parliament out.
These Members of Parliament are abusing our trust and promoting their own interest at our expense. A simple referendum carried out even with one million people will represent the wishes of Malawians than 193 greedy people.