There is a joke—hopefully it ends as such—that government is planning to provide security detail to local officials such as District Commissioners (DCs), Chief Executive officers (CEOs) of towns, municipalities and Mayors. For not being provided with a convincing or compelling reason for this costly move, we can only second guess what government is up to.
Minister of Local Government Richard Chimwendo Banda is reported to have told a quarterly coordination meeting for councils that in the Northern Region early this week that DCs and CEOs play pivotal roles in overseeing development at council level. He is reported to have said this necessitates the need to provide them with police officers for their security. The minister said councils themselves would be responsible for the logistics involved for the provision of such services.
Surprisingly, of all the people, executive director of the Malawi Local Government Association (Malga), Hadrod Mkandawire, has supported the minister’s proposal on account that the practice is not uncommon in other countries.
Let’s start with the minister’s justification. This is that the DCs and CEOs and Mayors need bodyguards because they drive the dream of the country’s development. This development is for the good of the people. Meaning that these officers promote the welfare of the people at council level. Now, how does that endanger the officers’ security?
My expectation was that the minister would bring an incident or incidents that exposed DCs and CEOs to insecurity while in their line of duty. Will a DC or CEO whose life has been threatened while in their line of duty please raise your hand. We are talking about people who stay with us in the districts, socialize with everyone in their neighbourhoods and drive around at any time of the day.
Knowing that providing DCs and CEOs with bodyguards would be a damn expensive undertaking and leave the taxpayer with more bruises, Chimwendo Banda said the councils themselves would be responsible for the bodyguards’ logistics. Now, what is the source of the funds that councils are run on?
Over 60 percent of the resources that councils use for the projects they implement come from the Central Government, specifically Account Number One. Not one council, whether district, town, municipality or city, generates enough revenue from rates for its operations or projects. So what is the minister talking about? As a matter of fact most councils are struggling financially. How many times have we heard that councils’ employees have not unpaid their salaries on time? Most councils are also unable to fulfill the most basics of their mandates. Then we want to load them with more financial burdens.
Let’s now turn to the argument by the Malga’s boss. This is that Malawi should provide DCs and Mayors with bodyguards because other countries do so. But this is Malawi. It is not Mozambique or Zambia or Tanzania.
Look at our economy. We are the 11th poorest country in the world with a GNI per capita of $620 and a GDP per capita of $635. In this region, we are only better than such countries as war-torn Somalia (GNI per capita of $430). But look at Zambia (GNI per capita $1 030). Tanzania ($1 100). So simply because Zambia provides its DCs with bodyguards does not mean Malawi can or should also do so. We are different economies.
Truth is that DCs are among the most politicised and abused civil servants in Malawi. Almost every regime wants to have its own set of DCs. That is why on average, DCs do not stay at one duty station longer than five years. The real reason government is toying with the idea of providing DCs with body guards is because it wants to endear them to the ruling party. What with the elections some 24 months away!
But this is fraud. Government has a million issues to fix. It cannot afford to continue wasting more money on things that bring no benefit to the taxpayer. Malawians should resist this at all costs. One can only hope that Chimwendo Banda’s statement about government providing bodyguards to DCs and CEOs was just a bad joke.