While another showdown is looming between PAC and the Government over the restructuring of the Local government, this article supports the position that PAC has taken on two sticky issues on the new bill. The two sticky issues are; the voting of MPs at Local Council meetings; PAC wants this to stop but government rebuffs it. Then there is the recruitment of District Commissioners. PAC wants this to be done by Councils while the government wants the Minister to continue appointing District Commissioners.
The Members of Parliament are a branch of government known as the Legislature, their role as set in Section 8 of the Constitution of Malawi is to make laws. The Constitution is clear on separation of powers. On the other hand, Councils are part of the Executive arm of the government. For members of Parliament to be making laws in Parliament and then sit at Local Council meetings and vote is a clear violation of constitutional principles on separation of powers. It is giving the Legislature to dictate to the Executive.On the other hand, the MPs have justified their voting privilege arguing that the electorate measures their success with the number of projects they have initiated. However, this argument should not be a reason of taking the role which is for the councillors. The MPs themselves must educate the masses that their role is to make laws and not initiate developments.
There are some problems that have been highlighted when MPs take part in Council meetings. First, they tend to dominate proceedings when the Councillors are supposed to be the ones dominating as they are the ones who collaborate with the grassroots. Secondly, there is a general belief among the Councillors that Members of Parliament are their bosses. This is a negative development as it allows the councillors to be subdued and dictated by the MPs. All these factors support the argument that MPs should not be voting at Local councils.
MPs have defended their voting power at local level arguing that Councillors lack the capacity to initiate projects due to their lower levels of education. This issue of capacity is subjective and cannot be sustained. If we have Councillors without capacity today it does not mean even tomorrow we are going to have the same Councillors. If we let Councillors be decision makers at local level chances are there that this might end up attracting skilful people to contest as Councillors. Is Noel Chalamanda not educated than some of our Members of Parliament? Is the fact that he is a mayor not inspiring some educated people to think of following in his footsteps? This issue of capacity is a weak argument; people attain capacity if they are given a chance to perform. The reasons of excludingMPs voting at local councils are therefore justifiable, sensible and in line with democratic principles. Malawi is the only country in Southern Africa where MPs vote at local level, Zambia stopped it two years ago. Therefore, a bill that maintains MPs voting rights at Council meetings is not worth supporting by any Malawian who wants to see this country developing at the same pace as our neighbours. It can only be supported by those who are happy to see Malawi clinging to the status of being the poorest country in the world.
Then there is the issue of recruitment which has also caused controversy in the bill. Currently, District Commissioners are appointed by the Minister after a recommendation from the Local Government Service Commission. Look at this, the Head of the Local Government Commission is appointed by the President. Then the minister appoints three other members of the Commission, this is the Commission that recommends names of shortlisted candidates to the minister and the minister appoints them as District Commissioner. There is no transparency and accountability here, the whole process is flawed. Malawians have seen the wholesome appointment of District Commissioners during the Joyce Banda era. When the DPP came into power there was demotions, reappointments, forced transfers and this led to endless litigation in our courts which in the long run is going to cost government billions of money. All this because of this secretive and undemocratic appointment of people into positions.
Therefore, from this background; thebill has proposed that the recruitment of District Commissioners and other senior staff should be done by the Councils themselves. Here is how it is going to work. Councils would identify the vacancies and notify the Local Government Service Commission. The Commission would then do the advertising, shortlist and conduct the interviews and give the Councils the results. It is up to the Councils to choose the preferred candidates. This is the process that the government does not want. If decentralization is to be meangiful councils should be given that mandate to recruit the most skilful people, give them performance related contracts. Such people are going to have vested interests in the Councils they are employed and would be answerable to the Council. It is wrong for the Central government to send people to Councils where they are going to become arrogant, big headed knowing that the bosses who recruited them are at Capital Hill. The government’s clinging to recruitment of District commissioners for councils has no any justifications. It is all political and as a way of awarding favours to their political followers. Why should Malawians continuing being taxed to compensate these disgruntled District Commissioners suing in Courts because of this undemocratic way of recruiting staff?
The Public Affairs Committee is right, let members of Parliament stop voting in Local Council meetings. Let Councils be responsible for recruiting District Commissioners; that is what decentralization is all about.