Government Faces Criticism for Dissolving Grassroots Committees, Raising Concerns Over Transparency
Move Questioned for its Potential Impact on Public Funds and Oversight
Lilongwe, Malawi- The government of Malawi has come under scrutiny for its decision to dissolve critical grassroots structures known as Area Development Committees (ADCs) and Village Development Committees (VDCs), which have long served as the voices of vulnerable and impoverished communities at the district and community levels, writes Howard Mlozi.
The Ministry of Local Government, Unity, and Culture issued a directive on August 27, 2023, addressed to all district commissioners and signed by Secretary for Local Government James Chiusiwa, ordering the dissolution of these committees.
The Ministry of Local Government, Unity, and Culture cited mismanagement of resources, favoritism, and corruption as the reasons behind the dissolution. However, the decision has raised concerns among experts and civil society groups.
The Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (CSAT), a good governance watchdog, has expressed apprehensions that this move could potentially empower Members of Parliament (MPs) to have undue influence over public projects, leading to concerns about transparency and accountability.
Willy Kambwandira, the executive director of CSAT, questioned the validity of the decision, stating, "It is not reasonable to accuse all ADCs and VDCs of mismanaging public resources. MPs are the ones responsible for public funds like the Constituency Fund. Without the oversight of ADCs and VDCs, there is a risk that these funds could be misused by MPs."
Kambwandira pointed out that communities have long complained about poor service delivery and limited participation in development projects.
He further expressed concerns that some MPs might use public projects as political tools and utilize the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) for campaign purposes.
Kambwandira suggested that the dissolution of the ADCs and VDCs might be a tactical move by MPs to exert greater influence over the use of public funds, raising fears of potential misuse.
While acknowledging the validity of concerns about mismanagement within these committees, Kambwandira argued that it would have been more appropriate to address corruption and mismanagement on a case-by-case basis rather than dissolving all ADCs and VDCs.
He highlighted the significance of these committees as key local governance structures that promote transparency and accountability.
He also stressed the need for the government to consider reinstating ADCs and VDCs to rebuild donor confidence.
Hadrod Mkandawire, the executive director of the Malawi Local Government Association (Malga), urged the central government to devolve political powers.
He stated, "As long as this directive is based on the strength of the allegations raised, the Ministry has taken the right direction. However, local councils should have the authority to make such decisions independently."
A member of an ADC in Lilongwe Central, who spoke on condition of anonymity, criticized the government's decision, emphasizing the importance of monitoring the use of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
The member pointed out that dissolving these committees without an effective mechanism for oversight could lead to a lack of transparency and accountability.
The member suggested that a more effective approach would be to address corruption within ADCs and VDCs and replace members involved in malpractices with individuals of integrity.
The member also raised questions about why only ADCs and VDCs were dissolved and whether MPs and officials at District Councils should also be held accountable, as it seems implausible for ADC and VDC members to engage in misconduct without the knowledge of MPs and council officials.
The government's decision to dissolve ADCs and VDCs has generated a significant debate, raising concerns about the potential consequences for transparency, accountability, and the management of public funds.