Legal and governance commentators have described as progressive a court ruling that civil society organisations (CSOs) have interest in legally challenging the abuse of public resources and demanding accountability from the government and the governing party.
Their reactions follow a High Court judgement in Zomba on Tuesday that four CSOs—Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Youth and Society (YAS), Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) and Church and Society of the Synod of Livingstonia—have sufficient interest to demand the repayment of K13.5 million which some parastatals donated to a fundraising initiative of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) dubbed Blue Night on July 29 last year.
In its reaction, the Malawi Law Society (MLS) said the issue of interested parties, or locus standi, on judicial appeals against the government have been a problem in the past.
“But from the perspective that the court has allowed CSOs to question what government officials are doing, we can say the ruling is progressive,” MLS president Mwiza Nkhata said in an interview.
He said that locus standi on matters of human rights and governance, interested parties were a diverse lot and such a group could not be limited.
Said Nkhata: “In that perspective, we can say that the ruling by the court seems to be progressive, but that is subject to me reading what the court has actually said.”
Commenting on the mediation that the court has ordered, Nkhata, who is an associate professor of law at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College in Zomba, said this was mandatory under the Civil Procedure Rules and a case can only go to trial when mediation fails.
Mustafa Hussein, a political analyst based at Chancellor College, said the ruling would empower CSOs and citizens to challenge the abuse of public resources by the governing party and by extension the government.
He said: “This ruling underlines the belief that power lies with Malawians and given a credible and active judiciary, Malawians should not relax but point out lack of accountability by public bodies.”
Hussein said further action by citizens should be taken on use of parastatal resources such as vehicles for political party rallies donations towards party campaign materials as well as the abuse of State broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation.
“Malawians should not relent, but be vigilant and seek interventions of the courts on such matters,” he said.
At its 5+1 All-Inclusive Stakeholders Conference held last year, Public Affairs Committee also touched on holding accountable public officers and institutions through practical interventions.