My Take on It: Of mixing and co-mingling of national and local governance mandates

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    File Photo: Lazarus Chakwera

    “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Mishmash, 12 then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the LORD.’ Therefore, I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.”
    13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. 1 Sam 13:11-13

    When they were not talking about the teachers’ strikes, or the Minister of Education forced to resign for incompetence and ineptitude, the honorable discussed the budget for the 2017/2018 fiscal year. This was after all, the Budget Session of Parliament – the big one because it lays out where the people we elected to office are going to collect and redistribute our taxes.
    It was amazing to follow the deliberations, and except for the run about of the abducted Member and other petty in-House squabbles, the honorable appeared to get along; the budget passed/adopted; and back to their constituencies they went.

    Goodall Gondwe
    Malawi Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe:

    A pretty picture that if all democratic governments got along as ours appeared to have done, the whole world would be at peace. But if we pause to consider what has happened. The proceedings of this august house called the Malawi Parliament just performed a train heist and run off not only with a hefty lump sum each, but also steered off with some chunks of local government development mandate.

    The honorable members debated the lack of progress in their constituencies; a round of accusations of the councilors mismanaging and even “pocketing money meant for development projects” made the rounds in total agreement. And in total nonpartisan agreement the House resolved that the development vote allocated to councilors should not only be taken away from the wrongdoers, but that the vote should be increased.

    A 20-minute recess while Money Bags Minister Gondwe meets in-camera with powerbroker leader of the opposition Chakwera, the result is a highway robbery in broad day light by the united House of lawmakers not before witnessed in Malawi. It has happened before, during the Muluzi and Mutharika I eras; but these were along party lines.

    In agreeing to grab the Constituency Development Fund from the councilors to be managed by the members of parliament is usurping the constitutionally mandated role of the local authority, vested in the councilors; however, to increase the said fund per MP, is self-righteous and astonishing.

    It goes to show how Malawi’s Parliament, with the mandate to make laws, is enacting laws and policies that are more self-serving than for the greater good of our young democracy.
    The National Assembly is a national constitutional structure with mandate for formulating policies and enacting laws.

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    The National Association of Student Council defines the parliamentarian as someone who is expected, among others to be the keeper of the constitution and bylaws and be familiar with their contents, offer procedural opinions.

    A Parliamentarian is an expert in rules of order and the proper procedures and the core function is that of enacting laws.

    While other parliament around the world, meet all year round, the parliament of Malawi, due to financial constraints, meets only eight to ten weeks a year. But this is belied by the hullabaloos about their salaries, sitting allowances, constituent funding, and fuel allowances.

    This isn’t serving the nation; this is one major fund-raising activity.

    In the years since Malawi became a democracy, the powers and privileges of Members of Parliament have increased; sadly, those of the councilors and even chiefs, have decreased. There is co-mingling of roles, wherein through an Act of Parliament, MPs can go to a local government council and vote; take part in the proceedings. While councilors can attend Parliament proceedings, they do not speak and they certainly do not vote,

    The history of this lies in the first from the time Malawi gained its democratic status. It took six years from the time the new constitution was adopted, for the UDF government to hold the 2000 local government elections. The UDF was such a strong party it garnered 612 of the 860 (about 71%) District Council seats.

    By numerous Acts of Parliament, and with presidential consent the Constitution was altered that gave powers to the political machinery, which removed powers talked about of decentralized government from local authorities. Powers removed from councilors (local government) was invested in parliamentarians (national government), these moves even threw in an alternative decision-making structure comprised of Members of Parliament and a range of unelected local leaders known as District Consultative Committee.

    The act of removing the sting from the power of councilors lay in the drama staged in parliament this past seating where money set aside for councilors to conduct the work of their mandate (development in their areas), was put into the hands of the national structure actors (parliamentarians).

    As members of drafters of the democratic Constitution we gave councilors the mandate among other local government to-dos, to look after the welfare and needs of local citizens. The 2010 Amendment to the Local Government Act, wherein MPs were given voting rights in the council chamber, adulterated the very concept of local government. Would the honorable MPs deem it appropriate to amend who can vote in Parliament? Absolutely not!

    It is an affront to our democratic climate that parliamentarians have usurped unanimously usurped democratic concepts, with the expressed view of controlling the purse strings of local development captains, who are the councilors.

    The very private and self-serving temperaments exhibited in the House of Parliament during this last session, lays bare the foundations of dictatorship. There is no power-sharing, there is no interest for the greater good of the people (the electors), and there certainly is no transparency or accountability, when national governors alter the Constitution willy-nilly to serve their personal interests at the expense of local governors.

    Long live genuine democracy!

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