The Malawi Local Government Association (Malga) has expressed concern with what it calls “deplorable conditions of service” for council officials, councillors, district commissioners, chief executive officers and directors. Malga has since appealed to government to consider raising the standards for the concerned parties to effectively deliver on their mandates. Malga executive director HADROD MKANDAWIRE speaks to our Staff Writer SUZGO CHITETE on this and other issues.
What are your expectations from the current sitting of Parliament in respect to the Local Government sector and decentralisation?
We expect tabling and passing of the Local Government Act Amendment Bill of 2020. The Bill contains amendments which if passed into law would be a catalyst for meaningful decentralisation in Malawi. Secondly, Malawians expect parliamentarians, as they did last time, to remind Minister of Finance to bail out councils from long-standing debts.
You recently decried what you perceive as “poor conditions of service” for ward councilors. Why do you want a hefty package for a voluntary, and not full-time job?
We appreciate that ward councillorship is meant to be a part-time job but the reality on the ground is different as councillors are working day and night attending to ward and council business. In addition, as you are aware, council business dictates that ward councillors interact with people on development, representation and subsidiary legislation making under the concept of representative democracy. When discharging the aforementioned responsibilities and duties, you cannot take out effective mobility in the equation. It is sad that majority of our councillors face mobility challenges when executing their constitutional mandate as most of them cannot afford a car. It is regrettable that for the past 12 months, four councillors have been tragically killed in road accidents in the course of discharging their responsibilities. May their souls rest in peace. All the four were killed while riding motorcycles and we strongly believe the situation would have been different if they had access to a vehicle.
So, what is your suggestion on transportation?
Our request is for councillors to be accorded opportunity for a duty-free vehicle once in every two years. Secondly, government should revise conditions of service for ward councillors to incentivise current and future councillors for effective council business. We are not asking for sky-rocketing conditions of service, but basic conditions that would enable a councillor to effectively discharge their mandate.
Previously, you were also pushing for official vehicles for council controlling officers, where are we?
The conditions of service for controlling officers—district commissioners (DCs), chief executive officers (CEOs) and senior officers of local governments—are too deplorable to attract or retain the best talent on the market. It is regrettable that DCs and CEOs of local councils are the only controlling officers in the public service who are not provided with official vehicles. It beats logic that DCs and CEOs are treated differently from other controlling officers in the public service. I regret to inform Malawians that the Central Government is yet to act on our long-time request to start providing official vehicles to DCs and CEOs with a buy-out scheme as is the case with other controlling officers. The current status is not only an unfair labour practice, but also constitutes a high-level demeaning of the office of a DC and CEO.
Malga and the Ministry of Local Government are tussling over allowances for those who acted as controlling officers when the incumbents were suspended over the Covid-19 funds. Why should they be paid when government made it clear they were just sitting-in?
The Central Government did not make it clear to anyone who acted as a controlling officer that they won’t be paid anything, and that they were sitting in, not necessarily acting. There is no documentation to that effect. It is ironic that the same Central Government, in its correspondence with these people and at all official functions, addressed them as acting DCs and CEOs, but turn around and claim that there were no acting DCs and CEOs simply because there were no appointment letters. In law of contract, including employment contracts, an appointment can be made expressly and impliedly. Taking into consideration of all factors, the Central Government impliedly appointed acting DCs and CEOs. It is regrettable that the central government, which is supposed to protect labour rights and set standards for non – state actors, is the fore front violating these rights.
Recently officers were arrested in Ntchisi for a salary scam and the same happened at Salima district council. How effective is fiscal decentralisation when councils are that prone to theft and abuse of resources just like the central government?
The public finance management is weak and some errant public officers exploit these weaknesses for personal gratification. We need to appreciate that this is happening both at national and local level and it is not true that the situation is worse at the local level. Recent audit reports can vindicate this. The issue at Ntchisi District Council did not necessarily take place there. The payroll for Ntchisi District Council was clean but the suspects are alleged to have connived with some officers at the Department of Human Resource Management and Development to manipulate the master payroll that remains at the centre. So, the funds in question were not necessarily stolen at Ntchisi District Council, rather from Account Number One. However, we acknowledge shortcomings in public finance management in some councils. The problem needs to be addressed, including staffing councils with the right quality and quantity. n