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Enhancing the financial position of cities : Evidence from Mzuzu

Case study 5
Financing Sustainable Urban Development
University of Oxford

9 mai 2023

The case of Mzuzu illustrates how secondary cities, where revenues are often incredibly low and capacity is minimal, can innovate and lead the way on municipal finance reform. Mzuzu is Malawi’s third largest city. The focus of this case study is a simple and fit-forcapacity property valuation system that increased realised revenues seven-fold between 2013 and 2018:1 The Revenue Mobilisation Programme (REMOP).

Although the programme was initially seen to be a success, several serious misgivings continue to inhibit further progress. These centre on legal barriers in the current property valuation process in Malawi. More broadly, issues such as revenue pilferage, lack of capacity for financial management, land ownership disputes between spheres of government, and national rural bias continue to prevent Mzuzu from achieving a sustainable financial position.

For development partners, the example of Mzuzu provides a stark reminder of the vital importance of widespread stakeholder engagement and caution for legal obstacles in order to achieve sustainable project success. It also illustrates the potential of using smaller cities, with more flexibility and somewhat strong incentives for reform, as a useful starting point to trial new revenue enhancement innovations. The Development Fund for Local Authorities (DFLA), a special entity set up for small and low-cost loans to local governments in Malawi, also presents an interesting model for further exploration. By helping local authorities through the process of lending, they are building local government creditworthiness and enabling them to develop systems for future debt finance.

Malawi’s cities, being some of the poorest in the world and in a country with relatively low level of urbanisation, are still at the beginning of the development curve. This early stage brings numerous challenges that are yet to be faced as well as an enormous opportunity to learn from the mistakes and successes of other cities in similar contexts. The cities are still at the critical juncture where they can invest in the urban infrastructure essential for livability and productivity before mass settlement takes place.

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