Councillors are a part of local governance and rural development. Within the local government system, they strengthen inclusive democracy and public service delivery.
Sustainable and resilient rural development is possible when decisions are made by the citizens themselves at the local level. They must not only participate and be represented, but also get a fair share in development planning and implementation.
The law recognise councillors as indispensable actors in steering local development through councils. In 1998, central government adopted the National Decentralisation Policy to progressively devolve some administrative and fiscal functions from to district councils, which have the capacity and proximity to take development to the communities through councillors.
Although the Local Government Act includes members of Parliament (MPs), traditional authorities and special-interest groups as members of the full council, it is actually the councillors who are the political custodians of councils and ultimate initiators of rural development in all 28 districts.
MPs perform three functions in parliamentary democracy—lawmaking, oversight and representation.
As representatives, the MPs must mobilise support for local development in their constituencies by taking this cause to Parliament for government action and lobbying development partners.
Good governance requires MPs to ceaselessly work closely with councillors and local development structures.
Councillors in our midst. They are the hub of local development and sustainable rural transformation.
That the country has 462 local wards demonstrates the councillor’s place in local development. They represent their wards in the councils, make plans and by-laws for development, provide feedback to their wards and provide checks and balances to district council secretariats headed by district commissioners.
They also lobby MPs for people in their wards to receive adequate and quality national services, while facilitating participatory local development.
To entrench democracy, councillors champion the identification, planning and implementation of local development projects in consultation with village development committees (VDCs), area development committees (ADCs) and area executive committees in an inclusive, participatory and democratic fashion.
Although councils receive development funding through General Resource Fund (GRF), District Development Fund (DDF), Local Development Fund (LDF) and Constituency Development Fund (CDF), it is the councillor who must take the lead in implementing development projects at the community level.
For that reason, councillors are unavoidably critical for any meaningful and sustainable local development to mushroom within the ambit of decentralisation policy.
Arguably, national development plans like the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III) will remain a far-fetched dream unless there is deliberate option for decentralising services and placing the councillor in the midst of the entire governance equation.
Ancient Greek philosopher Plato viewed all human beings as political animals.
Therefore, as the official campaign period begins, we need to galvanise citizens’ understanding and political support for councillors to achieve meaningful local development.
With massive looting and financial mismanagement in most councils, it is everybody’s civic duty to support calls for functional district councils by voting for strong councillors that can fearlessly provide checks and balances while initiating development in their wards.
The May 21 Tripartite Elections provide us an opportunity to contribute towards collective national efforts to identify development-oriented and strong-willed councillors to strengthen political institutions, democratic development and local governance. n