A new survey has shown that the electorate continues to mistrust their members of Parliament (MPs) in a number of areas.
Researchers fear the disconnect could worsen voter apathy in the next election.
In a policy brief titled ‘Bridging the Gap Between Citizen Expectations and Lawmakers’ Performance’, research think- tank Governance and Local Development (GLD) Institute based at University of Gothenburg, Sweden, surveyed 137 legislators in 2022 to gain insight into how they experience the electoral and policy-making process.
They found that 56 percent of the MPs felt that there were too many public demands on them, while 62 percent blamed inadequate funds for projects as major obstacles to development project implementation.
As for the citizens, they complained that MPs fail to listen and fulfil their needs in developing their constituencies.
Reads part of the report: “The [citizens] expect MPs to buy coffins during funerals and use their personal money for other developments in the constituency… people consider MPs to be a solution to their personal problems yet they are not given money for that purpose, i.e., asking for a personal car when a member of the family is sick.
“These situations put undue pressure on the MPs, which can require them to use their personal money to help constituents or set them up for failure. It can even get in the way of MPs fulfilling their mandates, like making laws.”
On institutional hurdles, some legislators expressed frustrations over the uniformity of Constituency Development Funds (CDF) regardless of size, need or regional difference.
The MPs proposed support in the form of civic education, institutional reforms and participation to overcome the obstacles they face.
They stressed the need to educate citizens on the role of MPs to align their expectations to reality.
“One suggestion is to offer citizenship training to educate the populace on government functions and roles, as well as how and where to advocate for themselves and participate politically. New avenues of participation and accountability between representatives and constituents are also needed, along with institutional changes,” the report further reads.
In an interview yesterday, political and governance pundit Ernest Thindwa blamed legislators for this, saying they perpetuate and reinforce this misrepresentation of roles as they seek to optimise votes during the electioneering period.
He said: “MPs promise provision of goods and services beyond their legal mandate and budgetary capacity as they seek election or reelection.
“Apart from high turnover of MPs in each electoral cycle, the misconception poses a risk of citizens’ loss of faith in representative democracy.”
Thindwa said the survival of democracy as a desirable system of rule is largely dependent on citizen support for democracy epitomised by sustained high voter turn-up and rejection of non-democratic system of rule.
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Michael Kaiyatsa said continued issuance of handouts reinforces the view that MPs exist to provide for the needs of their constituents.
In February last year, an Afrobarometer survey showed that 61 percent of Malawians disapprove of the performance of their lawmakers while 36 percent think that most of them are involved in corruption.
In the survey, more than half of respondents indicated that MPs do not listen to their demands.