Under section (149) (1) of the Malawi Constitution, National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) was established to facilitate fiscal decentralisation, financial management and development in district councils. How is the committee striving to enhance distribution and utilisation of resources for quality service delivery in districts? TEMWA MHONE speaks to NLGFC board chairperson COMMISSIONER RICHARD CHAPWETEKA.
What is your vision of an efficient and effective NLGFC?
Our board will strive to stop abuse of public resources by officers in district councils. Any malpractice must stop. The background is that abuse of funds in councils has been order of the day. No more. We will not entertain the abuse of the systems. Unfortunately, such officers have been left scot-free. This has perpetuated the vices as officers embezzle funds without remorse at the expense of high quality service delivery to ordinary Malawians.
How do you plan to achieve this vision?
We are building capacity of councils on managing finances prudently. We are introducing sanctions to be meted out on those found to have committed an offence. Some of the punishments include severe reprimand, reduction of salary, stoppage of increments, interdiction, dismissal, compulsory retirement and forced leave for investigations. These measures will depend on the nature and severity of the offence committed. These sanctions will take effect in the coming financial year.
Tell us more about the successes registered by NLGFC in the past 20 years?
I may not be in the best position to talk about that as I am just less than a year old in the office. But, like I said, the system has been abused to the core. We want to change that scenario.
How do you compare NLGFC of 20 years ago to the present?
A recent visit to the councils has shown that the capacity building to improve their performances is bearing desirable fruits. For instance, introduction of Governance for Enhanced Service Delivery (Gesd) project has challenged councils to work professionally. I am confident that in the next two years our councils will be reliable to provide good quality services to the citizens.
What are some of the lessons learnt over the years?
I have noted few things that have been neglected such as internal audits and hiring of underqualified staff. There has been no effective internal audits in many councils. These activities give timely red flags and direction in managing the funds. Some councils do not have well qualified internal auditors. We want all councils to have well-versed auditors. We want these local authorities to have qualified personnel in all positions.
What are some of the NLGFC’s prospects for the future?
Apart from using the funds from government prudently, we want to see councils generating their own revenue. They can employ different measures to get funds in form of rates like it is done in cities. For instance, through Gesd, Mulanje District Council has plots for sale and it will generate over K60 million for its operations.
What challenges are you facing as you implement the various projects on the ground?
.There is negative perception of development projects. People are reluctant to take advantage of the projects to flourish. For instance, we have built new markets that vendors do not want to occupy the shades because they claim there is no room to put their fetishes. But we are discussing to see how we can motivate them to move to these markets.
What are the financial reporting lines for the councils like?
Apart from Gesd, which is a motivator, we also manage Constituency Development Fund and District Development Fund. These are key investment areas councils report to us on. We make sure councils are accountable to every penny given to them for development projects.
There is a draft legislation. How will this empower NLGFC to serve better?
We are engaging an independent legal mind to scrutinise it for changes and improvements. Once it is passed in Parliament, we will have a guide to deal with councils that flout procedures, among others. This legislation is good for the country, as NLGFC will be mandated to keep councils doing right things for the betterment of citizens.
Any remarks you may have in general?
As a board, we are honoured to take up this huge challenge. I commend the leadership for bringing together people with necessary skills and experience into the board to discharge duties. I am excited with the members and this gives me, the chairperson, confident that we will make great difference going forward.