LILONGWE (Malawi NewsNow)-The Peter Mutharika government has drafted what is deemed as another controversial bill to be tabled in Parliament this Novemberknown as the Local Government (Amendments) (No. 2) Bill 2016.
The bill as it is has divided government and Civil societies including the esteemed quasi religious body Public Affairs Committee (PAC) which wants some provisions in the bill to be amended while government wants to retain the bill as it is.
The bill seeks to amend the Local government Act which was amended in 2010 in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the local authorities and also to align the Act with the objectives of decentralization as stipulated in the Decentralization policy of 1998.
Once passed into law, there will be significant as well as minimal changes in the set up and conduct of the Local government.
One notable change in the proposed bill is the amendment of Section 4 of the Local Government Act to provide for consideration that have to be taken into account by theNational Local Government Upgrading Committee before a minister declares a local government area as a Town or Municipal Council and when the President is conferring the dignity and title of ‘city’ on a Municipality.
Malawians have seen Municipalities turned into cities without knowing the criteria that is used. For example, the late Bingu declared Zomba a city when the Municipality had no infrastructure worth calling itself a city.
Joyce Banda too declared Mangochi a town during a political rally without telling Malawians what was there in the district to qualify it as a town. This section in the bill therefore aims at setting guiding principles to be considered before a status of an area is upgraded.
Another positive aspect of the bill is the amendment of Section 14 of the Act to provide for the inclusion of women in the Service and Committees of the council. Malawi is coming from a background where women, children and people with disabilities have been marginalised. The inclusion of this section is a positive development in fair gender balance and also in serving the interest of vulnerable groups.
However, there are two controversial areas in the proposed bill that civil society organisations and Public Affairs Committee (PAC) are not happy with.
The first is the retaining of voting rights of Members of Parliament at Council meetings. The government has insisted that this provision should be retained in the bill while PAC and other stakeholders are against it.
The argument of the government is that Councillors lack the capacity to initiate projects because of their low level education and therefore justifiable that MPs should be voting at such meetings. On the other hand, PAC argues that this is violation of constitutional principles as there is no separation of powers when the legislature takes the role of the Executive. Councils fall into the Executive branch of the government.
The second area of controversy is the issue of recruitment of District Commissioners. The government insists that this should not be changed. Currently, District commissioners are appointed by the minister after a recommendation from the Local Government Service Commission. PAC feels this whole process is not accountable and transparent.
PAC therefore proposes that the Councils should be given the mandate to recruit the top staff on their own without the involvement of the minister but only the Local Government Service Commission only playing an advisory role.
The bill which now remains to undergo at the Cabinet level might be tabled during this November sitting and once passed will bringe some changes to the structure and conduct of the Local government. Example, the title of the ‘District commissioner’ is going to be dropped and replaced by title such as ‘Town clerk’ or’ Clerk of Council’.