As part of an effort to ensure government listens to and acts on the concerns of rural populations, EU-funded interventions are supporting legislators in their role as overseers of public accountability
At a three-day workshop in Salima, Malawi, last month, parliamentary members of three committees – Agriculture, Natural Resources, and HIV/AIDS and Nutrition – gathered to learn more about their role in policy and budgetary processes and the importance of exercising their power of oversight to hold government to account for commitments made to its citizens.
More than 75% of the three respective parliamentary committees attended the workshop, which is part of an overall EU-funded combined grant and loan programme called KULIMA that aims to support sustainable agricultural growth in Malawi. NIRAS is responsible for efforts to strengthen governance in the agriculture sector, which target not just legislators but also the media to increase coverage on agri-related issues, including food security and nutrition.
Feedback from the capacity-building workshop was extremely positive. Over the course of the three days, there was animated discussion on the role of Parliament as more than just a “rubberstamp” of government policy and related budgets. MPs learned how to become familiar with the issues that come before committee and get more involved in the audit process, for example by analysing audit reports and raising budgetary questions where necessary.
In addition to focusing on oversight functions and the expected role of MPs, other aspects of the workshop involved exploring the concept of good governance and how it relates to sustainable development by examining the link between strengthened budgetary governance and improved economic growth. MPs also learned more about Malawi’s National Agriculture Policy and the country’s Growth and Development Strategy as well as the link between policies and budgets, how this relationship should ideally operate, and what happens when budgets are not in line with policy.
In the two years since the project’s inception, parliamentary focus has most been on the Agriculture Committee and supporting staff but going forward - until the project’s end in 2023 – the two additional committees, ie, Natural Resources and HIV/AIDS and Nutrition – will be invited to participate in all activities.
Increasing the capacity of the parliamentarians is only one of several key result areas of the project. The media has also received training with the goal of stimulating a deeper understanding among journalists of agricultural and food security issues and activities are ongoing to promote media coverage through different channels. Likewise, other opinion-makers such as civil society organisations are the subject of interventions, and the project includes interesting initiatives to increase the voice of rural masses and their participation in agriculture, nutrition, and environmental governance, for example, through community radio and radio-listening clubs.