‘Councils lack patriotism’

As local councils were dissolved on Wednesday in accordance to law, doubts still lingered in many a citizen whether this batch of councilors have performed to public expectations, especially on public service delivery and public engagements. FATSANI GUNYA engaged Consumer Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director JOHN KAPITO who shared his insights to the debate.

Kapito: We need strong leadership in the councils

Q

: Councils were dissolved this week, what was supposed to be their role?

A

: The local councils are supposed to be guided or get their mandate from the people within their councils through their elected councilors. This is done through a participatory process which includes regular meetings and feedback from the citizens. In this case, the councilors are agents or servants of the citizens in council governance structures. Unfortunately, no proper governance structures have been put in place to allow the citizens to take up a meaningful role on the operations of the councils.

Q

: How would you rate public service delivery since the councilors were ushered into office in 2014?      

A

: With due respect, the quality of public service delivery has been one of the worst since councilors were elected into office and that has left every citizen asking as to why we have these councilors in the first place.

Effective sanitation and health service delivery has completely been removed from the vocabulary of the local councils, especially in cities. Refuse continue to pile up in the cities under the very noses of our city chiefs.  The roads within our locations have become impassable with no interest from the councils to repair them. Again, most of the public infrastructures such as health centres and schools are dilapidated. As if this is not enough, the local markets have now been turned into disease-breeding centres and despite the fact that residents continue to cry for increased car parking spaces, the councils only have a huge appetite to collect parking and market fees without investing in the same.

Q

: So how would you score them on performance across the country?    

A

: I would say the score is very, very poor and it sad that this will create some huge voter apathy in the upcoming elections. I doubt if any citizen would be interested to listen to anyone campaigning for the position of councilors. To me, it is either we voted in the wrong people, or that the councilors themselves failed to understand their roles. On the other hand, it can also mean that the systems at councils are designed in such a way that they stifle the spirit of patriotism in progressive office bearers. Again, it also shows that there was so much conflict between councilors and parliamentarians where most of the councilors mistook their positions as a platform to become Members of Parliament. The voter is the end loser in all this.

Q

: Can we describe their performance as a lost opportunity?

A

: Absolutely yes, this is a lost opportunity as we all are demanding for a much decentralised system of government. Councillors have been a big let-down to the citizenry at large. They were driven by corruption and hunger for power within themselves and they completely disregarded the voter who ushered them into those positions. I have never seen an organised group of greedy and corrupt leaders like these outgoing councilors. Unfortunately, not everyone sees things as clearly.  We will still have some amongst ourselves still clapping for such mediocrity.

Q

: Which areas would you say they have failed the nation the most?

A

: To begin with, in accordance to the decentralisation process, local councils are mandated to work closely with the communities they serve. One of the crucial parts has been the issue of drafting council budgets. I would not say the process has been transparent enough, let alone having the best interest of the residents in mind.  This is an area where we expected our councilors to carry out very transparent consultative meetings with the citizenry especially during the formulation and identification of projects that should form part of the budgets. 

Unfortunately, we have noted the councils develop budgets on projects whose relevance even surprise the citizens and they have used the citizenry to come and endorse theft.  When one looks at the budgets you will notice that they do not address the key priority areas which affect citizens. They are often rushed and in most the projects are centered on road or massive construction works where corruption is high and strangely all other simple projects that are relevant to the citizens are never discussed.

It must be understood that the biggest corruption practices are done in road construction because the money is big and commission is also big and these are projects the citizenry are unable to monitor. In this way, the councils have, therefore, used the citizens to endorse theft and corruption.

Q

: Does this mean there was lack of effective communication between councils and residents in terms of improving service provision?                                   

A

: Communication has been the biggest challenge affecting our councils. They have proved they are professionals in lying to the citizenry. Councils have politicised most of the work they do, and they seem to survive on political patronage. This then compromises their roles to the extent that they fail to enforce their own regulations and guidelines.

What is very worrisome is that the councils—through various directives—do not care to provide feedback to the citizens, even if when one writes them on some concerns. The only time they care is when they need to use the citizens to rubber stamp their illicit and corrupt deals and practices.

However, I have always believed we can do better. We need strong leadership in the councils driven by the citizenry. The citizens need to regain the power in running the councils and once we make the councils accountable, effective communication will open up on its own. This is when people will realise that no one is above the law.

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