22 March 2019

Malawi: Why Councillors Matter in Malawi

Councillors are an integral part of democratic development, local governance and transformative rural development.

Councilors meeting

Within the local government system, councillors help to strengthen inclusive democracy and improved public service delivery at the local level.

Sustainable and resilient rural development is possible when decisions are made by the citizens themselves at the bottom through the existing lower level structures of governance and development.

Citizens must not only participate and be represented but should have an equal fair share of the cake in development planning and implementation.

TheNational Decentralization Policy (1998), as supported by the Local Government Act (1998), roundlyrecognize councillors as indispensable actors in steering local development through their councils,which are legally mandated to provide improved public service delivery to the citizens.

Government adopted the decentralization policy to progressively devolve some of its administrative and fiscal functions from the central government to district councils, recognizing the logic of thecapacity and proximity of councils in taking development to the communities through councillors as the bedrockof local development.

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 our 28 districts.

It is equally important to notethough that, apart from their presence at the council, MPsperform three functions - law making, oversight and representation within the confines of parliamentary democracy.

As representatives, MPs must mobilize support for local development in their constituencies by taking this cause at a national level through parliament for government action, including lobbying support from development partners at various availed opportunities of engagement.

In performing their duties, governance demands that MPs ceaselesslywork in close collaboration with councillors and local development structures to realiseinclusive local development.

It is no accident there are councillors in our midst. Councillors are the hub of local development for any country keen at forging sustainable rural transformation and development. The more reason the country has 462 local wards in her bag, demonstrating cruciallythe councillor's place in localdevelopment.

Councillors play key governance and development responsibilities at local level such as representing their wards in the councils, making plans for development, providing feedback to the people in their wards and ensuring transparency andaccountability of the district council secretariat as headed by the District Commissioner, among key roles.

They also lobby MPs for people in their wards to receive adequate and quality national services, while at the same time facilitating implementation of participatory local development.

As a way of entrenching democracy, councillors champion the identification, planning and implementation of local development projects in consultation with the local development structures like the Village Development Committees (VDCs), Area Development Committees (ADCs), Area Executive Committees in a more inclusive, participatory and democratic fashion.

Althoughcouncils receive development fundingthroughGeneral 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 implementingdevelopment projectsat the community level.

For that reason, councillors are unavoidably criticalfor any meaningful and sustainable local development to mushroomwithin the ambit of decentralization policy.

Arguably,national development plans like the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III) are a farfetched dreamunless there isdeliberate option for decentralizing services and placing the councillor in the midst of the entire governance equation.

Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, views all human beings as political animals. Therefore, as the official campaign period fast approaches, weneed to help in galvanizing citizens'understanding and political support for councillors to achievemeaningful local development.

Withmassive looting and malfeasance in most councils, it is everybody's civic duty to support calls for functional district councilsby voting for strong councillors that can fearlessly provide checks and balances while initiating development at the local level.

The upcoming Tripartite Elections provide us with an opportunity to contribute towards our collective national efforts inidentifying development-oriented and strong councillors to strengthen our political institutions, democratic developmentand local governance.

*The author is a Development Communication Enthusiast

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