Local authorities around the world understand there are considerable benefits to be gained from participating in international partnerships.
Regardless of the size or demographic of the local authority, mutual international partnerships can be established. Local government linking can take many forms, from skills sharing and capacity building between city councils, to exchanges between schools or community groups.
Through these partnerships local government has encouraged the growth of local democracy, improved effective service delivery and community engagement, and they have contributed to combating extreme poverty.
Currently 15 of the 32 Scottish local authorities are members of the Scotland Malawi Partnership, actively involved in supporting Scotland-Malawi linking by:
- Achieving Fair Trade status and using Fair Trade products from Malawi at meetings and events
- Supporting the integration of Curriculum for Excellence outcomes within school to school partnership with Malawi
- Encouraging schools to use development education resources on Malawi to meet Global Citizenship outcomes
- Establishing links between community groups within the local authority and Malawi
- Developing technical working links for skill sharing and capacity building between councils in Scotland and Malawi
Creating links between local authorities
There has always been a regularised system of local authorities in Malawi. Enshrined in the 1995 Constitution, local authorities were for the first time elected in 2000 and served their five-year term. Since 2005, however, no local elections took place until May 2014 when Malawi held tripartite elections which included local government elections for the first time in 14 years. With newly elected Councillors across Malawi, there is more scope for authority-to-authority linking between Scotland and Malawi now than ever before.
There are 39 single-tier local authorities (assemblies) in Malawi, which include 27 district assemblies (predominantly rural), 3 city assemblies, 1 municipal assembly, and 8 town assemblies. Individual districts have on average 320,000 people, with the capital of Lilongwe being the largest district with almost one million people. The largest city assembly is Blantyre with around 500,000 inhabitants. Each of the 860 wards in the country has one representative (Councillor) in its respective assembly. In addition to elected voting members, assemblies also have non-voting members, including traditional authorities within the area and members of the national assembly, whose constituents fall under the local council.
There has been some devolution of authority from central government to district assemblies in the delivery of public services such as health, education, natural resources, or community services and the process is still underway. Decentralization is one of the strategies and objectives of the Malawian government under the 2020 Vision, as well as the National Decentralisation Programme I and II. The central government provides the majority of the funding for local assemblies (60%), followed by revenues from property rates and rents (20%). Each district also develops its own District Development Plan, which prioritises specific development issues pertinent to the area.