The purpose of the Directorate of Local Government Services (DLGS) is to provide local governance management services to the general public. It has two key functions as follows:
- To manage the Local Government system and provide primary support to councils so that they are able to deliver quality services, effectively coordinate all local development initiatives and implement demand-driven community development micro projects aimed at improving people's welfare at community level.
- To facilitate and coordinate implementation of the Decentralisation Policy as backed by the Local Government Act to make the councils more effective in the delivery of quality services and development projects.
Through the decentralization process, Central Government transfers some of its functions and responsibilities to the councils. The MLGRD through the DLGS ensures that the councils are supported to effectively absorb and deliver the devolved functions. All this is aimed at achieving functional institutions at district and community levels, which can effectively deliver quality services and development programmes to facilitate rural transformation. The DLGS is comprised of two sections as follows:
Game changers for Local Government Services
- Assist remaining (22) councils to formulate and have approved bylaws;
- Facilitate peer reviews and twining of local authorities;
- Facilitate the operationalization of performance contracting system of personnel in the local authorities;
- Conduct council-based training for (council) service committees;
- Accelerate the implementation of sector devolution plans and management guidelines for Ministries of; Information, Transport and Public Works and Local Government, and Departments of; Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA), Energy, Mines and Tourism;
- Facilitate engagement mechanism with national level Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) (Governance and Service Delivery) on accountable decentralization; and
- Setting up a publicity platform for provision of information to public on projects and programmes undertaken by the Ministry and local authorities.
The purpose of this section is to coordinate and facilitate the implementation of the Decentralisation Policy.
Its functions are:
- To plan for the implementation of the decentralization process;
- To develop linkages between the Ministry and other stakeholders involved in the decentralisation programme including the Ministry’s cooperating partners; and
- To facilitate and coordinate the process of informing, educating and communicating with the general public to raise awareness for the Decentralisation Policy.
Local Government Services Management Section
The section exists to provide Local Government Management Services”. Its functions are:
- The provision of advisory and quality assurance services to the councils; and
- The provision of primary technical support to the councils in all matters of governance and council management, including formulation and review of by-laws.
Major Achievements of the Directorate
Improvement in Council performance and service delivery: Roll out of Annual Local Authority Performance Assessments (LAPA) with Supporting Partners in all the councils in the country. LAPA is assessments are carried out annually and the results of the assessments are normally released during the District Commissioners’ and Chief Executive Officers’ Conference. Specifically, LAPA wants:-
- To provide an objective account of achievements of local government, and thus building accountability for public resources.
- To identify potential gaps and constraints in local policy implementation;
- To identify specific capacity development needs and to monitor the results of capacity development efforts;
- To formulate change plans and solicit donor or peer assistance for improving specific aspects of local governance;
- To engage civil society and private sector in local governance; and The LAPA is therefore an instrument which helps determine whether efforts of local government are contributing towards realization of the objectives of the Malawi Decentralization Policy.
Performance of District Councils
The picture that is emerging is that the performance of district councils generally improved in 2018/19 as compared to that of 2016/2017. Out of 28 districts, Blantyre, M’mbelwa, Machinga, Kasungu, Mulanje and Dowa had an average performance (50% to less than 75%) while the majority 19 district councils need improvement (25% to less than 50%) and three (3) district councils Chikwawa, Karonga, and Rumphi had unacceptable performance (score below 25%).
Notably, District Councils performed poorly (score below 25%) in Development Planning, Commerce and Trade, Mainstreaming Key Crosscutting Issues (ICT, Gender, Human Rights, HIV and AIDS, Nutrition, People with Disabilities, the Youth, Children, Climate Change and the Environment) and Governance.
Performance of Urban Councils
The picture that is emerging is that the performance of city, municipal and town councils generally declined in 2018/19 as compared to that of 2016/2017. Unlike in 2016/17 where two urban Councils (Blantyre and Mzuzu) had an average performance (50% to less than 75%), in 2018/19 none achieved average performance. Both Blantyre and Lilongwe needed improvement (25% to less than 50%). The rest of the councils had unacceptable performance of lowest quality: Mzuzu 12%, Kasungu 7%, Zomba and Luchenza 6% and Mangochi Town 5%. This means most urban councils are non-performing.
Development / Review of Local Government Guidelines
The Directorate noted that the existing guidelines had some shortcomings, requested for support from development partners for the review of those guidelines as well as for developing additional guidelines. These were supposed to be ready by the May 2019 Tripartite Elections so that new Council members could start using them. In this regard, the Directorate reviewed the following documents with support from Irish Aid.
- A Guide for Conducting Local Authority Business in Malawi;
- Guidebook on the Local Government System in Malawi;
- Code of Conduct for Elected, Non-Elected and Secretariat Staff;
- Model Standing Orders in Malawi;
- Condition of service for Councillors
- In addition, the Directorate developed Guidelines for Standing Committees.
Training of Standing Committees of Councils
After 2019 Tripartite Elections, the Ministry noted that only 16% of Councilors had retained their positions. The Ministry, through the Directorate of Local Government Services (Management) therefore, organized orientation of all Council Members and trainings for Standing Committees of Councils. Standing Committees comprise Council members. Although it was planned to train Members of Parliament as well as part of members of Standing Committees. During the training of service committee parliament was in session and most Members of Parliament did not attend. It was planned that the training for MPS in service committee will be done separately. The trainings covered the following topics:
- Financial Management, Procurement and Audit;
- Development Planning;
- Local Government System – Council Committees and How They Work;
- Monitoring and Supervising Projects
The trainings took place in the following clusters: Mulanje, Mzuzu, Salima, Mponela and Liwonde. The trainings were curtailed in March 2020 due to the threat and eventual onset of COVID-19 pandemic in Malawi.
Formulation of Bylaws
The Local Government Act gives local authorities the general mandate to make bylaws in matters of public health, education, agriculture, environment, sanitation, forestry, fisheries, public parks and other matters incidental to the functioning of local authorities. However, specifically, the Road Traffic Act and Liquor Act give powers to local authorities to make bylaws for regulating traffic and parking in order to promote road safety as well as for regulating the production, marketing and distribution of liquor, respectively.
So far, a number of local authorities have made bylaws in their areas of need. Eight district local authorities namely: Mulanje, Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe, Machinga, Balaka, Kasungu and M’mbelwa have made a lot of progress and are at different levels of completion. These were supported by LGAP. In addition, urban local authorities have also made progress. The Mzuzu, Lilongwe and Mangochi Councils are through while Blantyre has completed a quarter of the number of bylaws it intended to make.
Going forward, LGAP has planned to support the remaining 22 local authorities in formulating bylaws but supporting in developing guidelines for making bylaws so that in future any local authority may simply embark on the process without much technical support required. The support for the 22 local authorities has not started yet, but the consultant for the development of the guidelines is on the ground.
Conducting District Commissioners’ Conferences
Every year, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development coordinates the holding of Local Government Authorities Conference with a view to allow stakeholders review the progress made in the year ending and also plan for the future. The Conference brings together Mayors and Chairpersons, District Commissioners and Chief Executives, officials from line ministries and development partners. Key issues discussed in the Conference include sector and fiscal devolution, resource mobilization, service delivery and civic engagement.
The Last Conference to be held was in 2017. Subsequent Conferences were called off due to inadequate financial resources. This year, the Conference may be challenged by availability of resources coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Ministry must find an appropriate means for disseminating the 2018/19 LAPA results if the Conference does not take place.
Facilitating the National Decentralization Process
Malawi’s National Decentralisation Policy and the Local Government Act, 1998 provide for the devolution of some functions and powers from central government to the local authorities. The Ministry is fully committed to deepen decentralization and has registered significant milestones in the implementation of decentralization in Malawi. For instance, the Ministry has facilitated devolution of the staff payroll and Human Resources management (HRM) to the local authorities as part of accelerating and deepening decentralization. The Ministry has facilitated the devolution process of 17 sectors.
The sectors include: Agriculture, Education, Health, Water, Gender, Youth, Sports, Labour, Fisheries, Forestry, National Registration, Immigration, Trade, Housing, Trade, Transport and Public Works and Disaster Management Affairs. Sector devolution is at varying stages. Some of these sectors have devolved corresponding resources to the councils. For instance, the fiscal transfers have increased from MK3.8 billion in the 2004/05 budget to a budget estimate of MK26 billion in the 2018/19 budget.
Decentralisation road map
The Ministry has developed a Decentralization Road Map whose purpose is to facilitate reflection of the implementation of decentralization process since 1998. The road map depicts the gains, achievements, and gaps and comes up with priority actions necessary to attain full decentralization.
The Decentralisation Policy in Malawi is going through the following implementation stages:
- Devolution of Functions
- Devolution of Finances including Development Budget
- Devolution of Human Resources, and
- Devolution of Assets, which is the last stage and is, planned to commence in the 2019/2020 financial year.
The road map recommends the need to complete the devolution process with the aim of strengthening local government councils to improve public service delivery. There is, therefore, need to vigorously revitalise the implementation of the decentralisation reforms in order to realise the vision of local government that was articulated in the Malawi Constitution.
Key Challenges affecting Local Government Services
- The major outstanding issue of the Directorate has been delay to approve the Local Government Bill which is currently with cabinet. There are four contentious issues that need to be resolved.
- Conflicts between councilors, MPs and the council secretariat, has greatly affected the performance of some councils during the period review
- Slow pace of decentralization due inadequate skills and erratic resources
- Poor working condition in most councils, hence a need for new office infrastructures, equipment, furniture and materials; and
- Slow pace on the formulation of council bylaws.
The Directorate has planned to continue implementing the following activities:
- Facilitating implementation of a Roadmap (5-year Mid-term Plan) on Decentralization, which is expected to have four (4) focus areas namely: Sector devolution; Financial Management; Local development and Local planning, monitoring and evaluation
- The review of the decentralization policy and the local government act.
- Continuing the devolution of Human Resources
- Continuing the devolution of the Development budget
- Continuing development and review of Sector Devolution Plans
- Continuing the strengthening coordination of decentralization