We are one week into 2015 and most people have already drawn their New Year resolutions.
While you are coming up with a list of things that you would like to accomplish on individual level in 2015, Democracy Forum would like to request you to spare a thought and think about what contribution you are going to make to your country.
One suggestion is that we must all work towards making Local Government System work.
The 2014 Tripartite Elections gave us a tremendous opportunity by ushering into office councilors who were the missing cog in Local Governance Systems.
We now have fully fledged local councils.
Let us make 2015 the year that Local Government Systems get entrenched and becomes the engine that drives our country to prosperity.
Malawi was without local councils for nine years which is a very long time. In fact, during the 21 years in which we have been a democracy (since the historic June 1993 referendum when Malawians chose multiparty democracy over single-party dictatorship) we have had functional local councils for only 5 years (between 2000 and 2005).
This means we have been without local councils in 16 out of 21 years in which Malawi has been a democracy.
This, obviously, is not good enough.
Development of our country has stagnated and we have a lot of ground to make up.
That is why it is important that we make 2015 the year that reshapes our country through a strong and effective local government system.
The length of time we have been without local councils means that we have a lot to re-learn.
Local governments have various stakeholders. What we need is for all of them to understand their roles and perform them accordingly.
We citizens too have roles and responsibilities of our own which must be performed to the fullest to make local governments operative.
We must remember that while there is plenty of rhetoric in support of local governments, we can still expect many challenges.
Decentralization reforms often lead to tensions among various stakeholders because it is about redistribution of power within and between various levels of government, with different actors having opposing interests in the reforms.
There will, therefore, be people, deliberately or otherwise, working to frustrate local governance.
Politicians are usually the ones who like to take advantage of citizens who are either unformed or unengaged.
If we are going to be good citizens and if we are going to prevent greedy politicians from frustrating local governments, we must teach ourselves as much as possible about local governments and stay engaged in activities of our local councils.
NICE offices can be useful places to visit for literature and information that will help us understand how Local Governments work and what the roles, duties and responsibilities of citizens are.
If we make local councils functional, we will discover that they give citizens power to press for improvement in government accountability and service delivery, particularly for the poor and the marginalised.
For the fiscal year July 2014 to June 2015, each Constituency has K10million as per budgetary allocation towards the Constituency Development Fund (CDF). This will not translate into any tangible benefits for our communities if, as citizens, we do not insist on transparency and accountability in manner in which the money is put to use.
Let us ask questions, demand answers and insist on transparency and accountability.
Remember that all aspects of local government are thrashed in local councils by the people we elected as councilors, led by the person they themselves chose to be the Mayor (in the case of cities and municipalities) or Chair (in districts and town councils).
Local councils are extremely important. Let us all give them the respect they deserve.
Within the local councils, the leader is the Chair or Mayor. If an MP or a Minister or even a President visits a local council, they are below the council chair/Mayor in terms of hierarchy.
MPs or Ministers or other ‘powerful’ politicians or party functionaries must never be allowed to bulldoze their way into influencing decisions of local councils.
Let us make 2015 the year that builds our local democracy!