President Peter Mutharika yesterday rebuked members of Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) over reports of financial mismanagement, saying the organisation cannot afford denting its credibility in any way.
He was speaking when MEC commissioners called on him at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe to brief him on some electoral developments since the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections.
Highlights of the report include the organisation’s praise for the Executive for not interfering with MEC’s work, its overseeing of recent by-elections and capacity building for the commissioners.
A copy of the polls report that had already been sent to State House, political parties and other stakeholders several months ago, was also formally given to the President, albeit belatedly, to fulfill constitutional obligations.
In his speech, Mutharika said: “I am very concerned over reports of financial mismanagement and a lack of probity within the ranks of the commission which have been brought to my attention from time to time.
“Your credibility, as commissioners, gets eroded by the persistent reports we read concerning a lack of financial probity within the commission. That, in turn, does very little to inspire confidence in Malawians who offer themselves to run for public offices if the men and women who must make a final decision regarding their fate have doubtful credibility.”
He urged the commission to address and resolve all the accusations and other negative issues in a transparent manner so that people do not harbour any doubt about the commissioners’ credibility. “It is important that independence and accountability go hand in hand,” he added.
Several months ago, media reports quoted an audit report by the Central Internal Audit Unit as exposing fraud by MEC staff and some commissioners through, among others, dubious claims for field allowances for trips not undertaken.
Reflecting on the general operations of the commission, the President congratulated it on successfully organising and managing the 2014 tripartite elections and the subsequent by-elections in October, 2014 and in December last year.
On the current public demands that certain reforms be made to the electoral law in Malawi, Mutharika said commissioners are pivotal in making the most of the needed changes by ensuring that they know their commission’s legal mandate and that the changes are based on the will of the people.
But after a closed-door deliberations with the President, MEC chairperson Maxon Mbendera blamed the media for having spread what he described as unsubstantiated reports, referred to by Mutharika, of massive looting at MEC.
“It’s not true. I want to refute it here and now—it’s not true,” he declared, saying the basis of the reports appears to have been a scheme to smear MEC through an audit report that was apparently leaked.
Mbendera, who is also a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, said when MEC finally defended itself over the audit queries, the auditors and the government could not challenge the query responses by MEC. n