Three of the eight commissioners of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) are doubling as board members of other public institutions contrary to provisions of the country’s Constitution and Public Service Regulations.
The three, appointed by President Peter Mutharika in June this year alongside five others, are Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) board chairperson Jean Mathanga, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) chairperson Moffat Banda and the Reverend Clifford Baloyi who chairs the Northern Region Water Board (NRWB).
Department of Statutory Corporations spokesperson Flemmings Nyirenda said in an interview the department was aware that three board members of MBC, Escom and NRWB were appointed MEC commissioners.
He said: “The department is currently looking into this.”
In an earlier interview, Nyirenda said since tenure for the trio as board members was ending in November 2016; it was possible that they were expected to see off their contracts as board members.
He said the department has not yet initiated the process of removing the three as either commissioners or board members, as it was still seeking guidance from the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).
Since June 2016 when she was appointed to MEC, Mathanga has presided over several Escom board meetings while Banda was at the weekend, during MBC Zokonda Amayi celebrations at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe, addressed as MBCboard chairperson.
Statutory Corporations guidelines that The Nation has seen state that board members of a commercial company such as Escom get annual honoraria of K240 000 and sitting allowance of K25 000 per meeting.
On the other hand, chairpersons for semi-subvented organisations such as MBC get K160 000 annual honorarium and K20 000 as sitting allowance.
MEC confirmed that the two have attended commission meetings, induction programmes and trainings.
“Take note that it is not to the knowledge of the MEC that the two commissioners are holding other public positions,” reads a MEC response from its director of communication Sangwani Mwafulirwa dated August 11 2016.
In the response, Mwafulirwa referred The Nation to Section 75 (2) of the Constitution, which reads: “A person shall not be qualified to hold the office of a member of the Electoral Commission if that person is a Minister, Deputy Minister, a Member of Parliament or a person holding public office.”
But he said he would not know how much the two commissioners have received from MEC from the time they were appointed, as: “This is difficult to quantify.”
MEC commissioners are also entitled to K300 000 per month and 50 percent house allowance, K40 000 sitting allowance per meeting, K136 000 monthly telephone allowance and 300 litres fuel per month, according to MEC commissioners’ conditions of service.
The conditions also provide that the commissioners receive K400 000 as furniture allowance, K12 000 per month for domestic workers and K12 000 for utility allowance respectively and are entitled to an armed police guard and 24 hours burglar alarm.
MBC public relations officer Thembi Malinki told The Nation that Banda has never attended any board meetings since his appointment as MEC commissioner as MBC has not held any board meetings during the period in question.
Escom public relations officer George Mituka said Escom was incorporated under the Companies Act as a limited liability company and its affairs are guided by its Articles of Association (Constitution) in terms of appointment and removal of Directors of the Board.
He said: “By our constitution, the directors, once appointed, serve in the Escom Board for a period of two years and the tenure of the current directors will expire in January 2017.”
Mituka said Escom being an incorporated company, it follows, therefore, that the Public Service Regulations cited did not apply.
Political science lecturer at University of Malawi Boniface Dulani observed that there are ethical and governance reasons why the law says one should not serve in two public positions.
He said: “From an ethics perspective, dual service is prohibited as a way of minimising cases of conflict of interest, especially when the person in question has to decide on issues that affect the two institutions. From a governance perspective, dual service conflicts with the principle of separation of powers. This is meant to encourage a culture of checks and balances that in turn minimises the potential for abuse of office.
“Meanwhile, the Constitution underscores the need for a strict observance of separation of powers in government. Thus from an ethical, governance and constitutional perspective, it is wrong for any appointing authority, even if it is the high office of President, to appoint a single individual to serve in two public positions.”
State House director of communications Bright Molande told The Nation that the President was aware that there were MEC commissioners doubling as board members in some parastatals, but said he believed that they were not breaking any law because they were not full employees of the organisations they serve as board of directors.