Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Advocating For Local Government Elections: Implications In The Absence Of Councilors By Pearson Nkhoma1

A lot has been written about postponements of local government elections. However, with the wrangles that are resulting because of the lack of consultation in the appointment of MEC commissioners, it is inevitable that local government elections would also be postponed for another longer period. History is repeating itself, but does Malawi really need councilors. This is a question that I am trying to answer. Democracy stands for the welfare of all people and for their common good. Citizens take part and share in the work of the government as it takes its objectives from the people. This is achieved through people’s participation in decision-making and affairs that affect them. Democracy insists on the right of people to control their affairs. This is one reason why in any democratic system, people need to participate fully. Through participation, people are empowered. Therefore, it can be inferred from here that participation is a hallmark of democracy. 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 one of the ways set up to achieve good governance in the country. This is one reason the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, in Chapter 14, provides for the existence of local government authorities in the country so as to give people a greater chance of taking part in decision making in their social, political and economical life. However, Participation can hardly be achieved in the absence of local government elected councilors. Local government is a system that is supposed to promote development 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. since the time of dissolution, it follows that more than a year has passed without Malawi having elected 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. There are many reasons why Malawi needs local government elected councilors. 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, and also 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. In short, based on the Constitution, Malawi need local government elections to observe the rule of law. 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, since Chapter 14 of the Constitution provides for the existence of elected local government authorities and failure to replace them, it therefore follows the constitution has not been up-holded because it is against the background of the constitution which provides for their existence. The constitution is the supreme law, and not observing it is a crime. 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”. No wonder, poverty is increasing, as there is lack of political will for government to allow for local government elections. It is discovered that lack of participation increases poverty since development projects tackle issues that don’t affect the poor people. Accordingly, as already asserted, 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 as proved in Chitipa because they are not elected. Chiefs are also highly respected in our culture and it would be against the moral rights to hold them accountable. In addition, chiefs stay in power for lifetime. This would mean that there is no time to hold them accountable for mismanagement of resources and abuse of power. On the second hand, MPs are nation-wide lawmakers, not concerned with local development. It is ignorance that make us believe that MPs are there to facilitate or bring about development. Their duty in parliament is to make laws and justify government bills. It is the duty of councilors to facilitate on issues of development and other issues that affect local areas. Above that, 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. Apart from that, it has been discovered through researches that MPs rarely consult their constituencies on matters as they go to parliament and make decisions that affect the country at general. Mostly, MPs are driven by party politics and personal desires. Ignoring Malawians at large. All in all, to have chiefs and MPs replace councilors is illegal and looking down at democracy. All in all, dictating MPs and Chiefs to replace councilors and represent people in matter of local areas means that dictating representatives on local people which is against democratic principles for people to choose their reps. This hinders on the genuine expression of the popular will to choose local representative of their choice. The constitution further asserts that government gets its powers from the people of Malawi, to look after and to protect their interests. This is achieved if people are given the environment in which they can ably participate. Lack of participation means denying people the right to livelihood security and good governance and also denial of meaningful debate on structural change. In summary, local government elections, by their nature, 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. Without councilors, the choice made by people for representative local democracy is not being respected, henceforth making them look at 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. It should also be clearly indicated the delays are against the upholding of periodic elections which democracy requires us. Imagine, a country without MPs and the president for about two years. In addition, it is impractical for government to state that there are no funds for local government elections. This only shows lack of political will and seriousness in part of the government. Malawians 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; ways must be achieved to bring in commissioners after a thorough consultation so that wrangles are solved with no delays; the government side must also justify where it went wrong, and with other political parties solve the problem. The wrangles are not doing Malawians any better. Just as any democratic country, Malawi cannot be run without the elected MPs and the President. This follows that it cannot also be run without local elected representative. A situation we are experiencing in Malawi is unhealthy and disgracing for democracy. 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. 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. Let us be realistic that it is unreasonable for a country that is talking of decentralization, to be reluctant to hold local government elections. Above that, councilors 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 we are heading to the autocratic rule once again. A clear date must be set aside because elements of good governance which include participation, rule of law, respect for human rights and the constitution are not being upholded with these postponement of local government elections. Unless local people are given a chance to have their views, it is impractical to claim we are leaving in a democratic country.
The constituion has highly been violeted and no development can be achieved in a such environment

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