Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Local government elections: Government why this delay.

Local government elections: Government why this delay.


Local government, defined as a system in which the central government hands over certain definite powers to legally constituted bodies which represent people locally, is responsible to the people and it is one of the ways set up to achieve good governance and local participation in the country.
In democratic countries, every citizen is supposed to take part in matters happening in his/her society such as choosing leaders. To give people a greater chance of taking part in decision making in their social, political and economical life in Malawi , the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi , in Chapter 14, provides for the existence of local government authorities in the country. Local government is a system that is supposed to promote development and peoples’ participation in local areas. People choose their ward representative called councilors through local government elections. First elections for local governments were conducted in December 2000 and were dissolved in April 2005. This follows that more than a year has passed without Malawi elections to replace councilors. However, the country’s constitution, in Section 147(5) clearly asserts that “Local government elections…shall be held on a day, within seven days from the expiration of the third week of May appointed by Electoral Commission”. According to this section, local government elections were supposed to have been conducted in 2005 but up to now, about two years since the dissolution, no specific date has been set. However with the ongoing wrangles, it is clear that we will witness another long period before the elections are held.
Malawians need local government elected councilors for many reasons. As already asserted, local government has a legal backing from the country’s constitution. The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi , in Chapter 14, guarantees for the existence of local government elected authorities with constitutional backing functions in the country. Councilors have discretion in the management of local affairs subject to requirements of state law. Local government is also a constitutional principle for good governance and development. Additionally, local government is the proper area in which legitimate power can be exercised with true accountability since it operates on the basis of local representation. Section 146 further asserts that councilors are responsible for the representation of the people over whom they have jurisdiction for their welfare. Therefore, councilors are responsible for the consolidation and promotion of local democratic institutions and democratic participation in the delivery of essential local services.
Local government elections also provide the ground for people to practice their freedom to choose and elect their representatives, and also a ground for the participation of political activities intended to influence the composition and policies of the government as asserted in the Constitution of Malawi. In short, councilors empower local people to participate in decision making. It is local government elected authorities that make it possible for a large number of people to take an active part and participate in democracy. Participation and empowerment are vital key holders of democracy, thereby, leading to good governance in the country.
However, since the dissolution of local government authorities in April 2005, no date been put in place for local government elections to replace the councilors. In the absence of local government elected authorities there are many implications that may result. On the first place, failure to replace councilors is infringement of the constitution. It may also mean that there is an infringement on the political rights of local people such as right to choose representatives and stand for political position as councillors as asserted in Section 46. It also infringes on peoples rights to development as councillors will represent development projects to Assemblies. Above all the president, as a custodian to defend and preserve the constitution as Section 81(1), would most likely, face charges of violating the constitution as indicated in Section 86(2a), hence, face the possibility of impeachment charges because the Constitution in Section 147(5) asserts that “Local government elections…shall be held on a day, within seven days from the expiration of the third week of May appointed by Electoral Commission”.
Accordingly, it can be argued that representative local government are a desirable counter part of democratic national government and a vital partner in the community a large. It is a necessity to have these councilors so as to bring participation and go on with the rule of law in democratic Malawi . However, some have argued that traditional leaders and MPs can replace elected councillors, hence, there is no need for local government elections. However, this argument is far from the legal prescription of democratic decentralization. Chiefs cannot replace councillors because the system of choosing chiefs is based on hereditary and male lineage, and, therefore undemocratic. In a democracy, people have a right to choose their local representative and a right to equality in public position. This cannot be achieved through the undemocratic chief selection. Furthermore chiefs cannot be held accountable because they are not elected. On the second hand, MPs are nation-wide lawmakers, not concerned with local development. Wards are also smaller compared to constituencies, hence, easy to facilitate and an easy way to actively involve local people in development and local politics local in wards. To have chiefs and MPs replace councilors is illegal.
All in all, by their nature, local government elections seek to uphold and implement the crucial analytical root of liberal democratic political system, vis-à-vis, the principle of separation of power and that of checks and balances as traditional pillars for the creation of equitable socio-economic and political development, aimed at empowering the grassroots and all other minorities and the rule of law. Without councilors, the choice made by people in 1994 for representative local democracy is not being respected, hence forth making them look at democracy and decentralization as meaningless. Adherence and respect for provisions of the constitution has highly been undermined and it is therefore clear that government is diluting some values of democracy in the absence of councilors.
In addition government must also stop lying that there are no funds. Local government elections, just like general elections, must be planned as office time draws to the end. We voted for democratic system of government in 1993, therefore we must just be ready to fulfill its principles. The government must know that as a democratic country, we cannot run without the representatives of local people. It will mean that we are going back to authoritarian system. MEC commissioners’ wrangles must be solve with no delays, the government side must justify where it went wrong, and with other political parties solve the problem. The wrangles are not doing Malawians any better.
It is therefore imperative for all concerned civil society organizations and NGOs who are working hard to consolidate our democracy to find means and ways of addressing this disgracing situation. A clear date must be set at the soonest as to when to hold local government elections so that Malawians are not infringed of their rights like to have right to have local representative and right to participate in their local affairs. It is also high time the government started to uphold and protect the law by following what it guarantees, and Local government election will also be a test of government’s commitment to democracy in the country. In democratic country like Malawi , we should always keep in mind that local assemblies play a very important role in the upholding of democratic principles since local governments also consolidate democracy through participation at the grassroots. In addition, it is also unreasonable for a country that is talking of decentralization, to be reluctant to hold local government elections. In addition, councillors are the key to the enhancement of good governance and rule on public trust, transparence and accountability which are keystone features of the constitution and good governance in democracy. It would therefore be impractical to delay local government elections any further. Human rights have already been infringed and democratic principles broken, Malawians need local government elections to replace councilors soon or else. A clear date must be set aside.

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