In order to foster synergies between decentralization, and integrated rural development, the United Nations System in collaboration with the Government of Malawi plan to develop a programmme framework that aims at prioritizing specific interventions to strengthen local governance, decentralization, and promote integrated rural development.
Having turned 50 years in 2014, the prognosis for Malawi’s prospects to achieve sustainable rural transformation faces a myriad of challenges in view of the severity of poverty. There is recognition that Malawi should have been more advanced in the development spectrum with better human development indicators. However the situation is different and dire. About 85 percent of the population live in the rural areas subsisting on small scale farming. The Integrated Household Survey 2010 indicates that the national poverty rate is currently at 50.7 percent having dropped from 52.4 percent in 2005. About 25 percent of the population is ultra-poor and income inequality according to the Gini-Coefficient has moved from 0.39 to 0.45 in the same period. About 17 percent of the population in urban areas is living in poverty compared to 57 percent of the rural poor population. This scenario underscores the rationale for interventions to improve rural livelihoods.
Malawi’s post 2015 consultations on the “future that we want” identified governance and accountability as a priority development intervention area. The report identifies weak state of local governance and decentralization manifested by lack of fiscal and human resource devolution. The report also notes politicization and weak coordination of development agenda leading to non-continuity of initiatives and policy reversal and abandonment. The second phase of post-2015 consultation identified critical elements that would allow successful implementation of post 2015 development agenda at local level. These included the need to improve: institutional roles and functions; coordination, partnerships and inclusion; monitoring and evaluation; development effectiveness; and sustainability of support.
The policy environment is conducive to the delivery of rural development services. The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) [2011 to 2016] treats IRD as one of the priority areas. The objective of Integrated Rural Development being to transform rural areas into socially, politically and economically viable enclaves that contribute positively to the reduction of poverty and overall sustainable development in Malawi.
Rural development as a policy objective has been pursed for a long time. The advent of multiparty democracy in 1994 saw Malawi adopting a new constitution in 1995 which provides for good governance and development as rights. It further provides for a basis for decentralisation by prescribing powers and functions of democratically elected local governments. The government therefore adopted a National Decentralisation Policy and a new Local Government Act (1998) based on the Constitution. The Policy and the Act provided for the establishment of Local Governments as the key institutions that would deliver social and economic services more efficiently at local level. Following the enactment of the Local Government Act, 1998 and its revision in 2010, Local Government Elections were held in 2000 and later in 2014, ushering in Councillors as political heads of Councils and providing a platform for inclusive governance and decision making.
However, implementation of the National Decentralisation Policy was planned to cover a period of ten years in two phases. The first phase was for a period of four years commencing in the 2000/2001 fiscal year and ending in the 2003/2004 financial year. The Government intended that the first phase, preceded by a one-year crash programme, be focused on building capacity at the centre and the Local Governments for the smooth take off of the policy implementation process.
The second phase planned for the 2005-2009 period aimed at deepening the decentralisation process at the district and village levels and improving the management and service delivery capacities of Local Governments. This phase was designated in the initial National Decentralisation Programme II [2005-2009]. However, implementation of the NDP II did not succeed due to limited commitment of donors due to Government failure to conduct Local Government Elections in 2010.
As a follow-up to the tri-partite elections conducted in 2014 which ushered local councillors, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MOLGRD) with support from UNDP embarked on an evaluation of the NDPII with the aim of assessing the extent to which NDP II outputs and results were achieved through the implementation of its sub programmes. The evaluation also sought to identify key implementation challenges and successes in order to generate lessons that would inform the design and implementation of subsequent decentralisation programmes. The findings, lessons learnt and recommendations will assist the government and its development partners in determining the new direction for the decentralisation process and in designing the programme framework on integrated rural development and decentralization.
Currently, delivery of rural development programmes and projects is fragmented. Therefore, in order to ensure effective coordination of rural development initiatives in the country, the Ministry has established an IRD and Decentralization Sector Working Group (SWG), which brings together various actors in rural development and decentralization. The Ministry has formulated a National Integrated Rural Development Strategy (IRDS), which seeks to facilitate complementarity of the various rural development interventions in order to maximize benefits by harnessing synergies among the various programmes and projects implemented in rural areas. Gender and other cross-cutting issues (ie. HIV and AIDS, Climate Change, Environment and Natural Resource Management, Disability) have been mainstreamed in the strategy. The strategy will be used to implement the MGDS priority areas for integrated rural development and decentralization.
A consultancy is therefore being sought to formulate a National Programme Framework on IRD and Decentralization. The Framework is expected to provide programming details for IRD and Decentralization, including implementation arrangements pertaining to specific intervention areas.