Faced with growing pressure from civil society organisations (CSOs) and governance watchdogs to refund the recent Blue Night donations from some public agencies, governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has toned down and is begging for dialogue on the matter.
The DPP’s plea for dialogue comes against previous arrogant stances by its senior officials, including secretary general Greselder Jeffrey who described as “zachamba[nonsense]” calls from CSOs and governance watchdogs, including Malawi Law Society (MLS), for DPP to refund an estimated K13.5 million collectively donated by public institutions during its fundraising dinner and dance at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe on July 29 2017.
In a letter to the CSOs pushing for the refunds dated August 28 2017, Jeffrey indicates that the DPP was willing to furnish the public with details of the money collected and donors through the CSOs, but through a dialogue process.
In the letter addressed to lawyer representing the CSOs, Wesley Mwafulirwa, Jeffrey argues that Mwafulirwa was misled by his clients that they had made attempts to engage the governing party in a dialogue.
She said the CSOs were, on the other hand, engaging the DPP through a third party, the media.
Said Jeffrey: “Should your clients be open to dialogue in order to solve this issue amicably as your letter intimates, we have a team on standby to engage with your clients and to ensure that their questions are satisfied.
“It is on the above premise that we would like to propose dialogue on the matter. May you kindly advise your clients accordingly so that both parties can agree on the process.”
But the CSOs, who have resolved to sue the DPP after the party defied a seven-day ultimatum to refund the money, yesterday maintained that the party in power should refund money donated by Blantyre City Council (BCC), Mzuzu City Council (MCC) and Lilongwe Water Board (LWB), among others, during the event where President Peter Mutharika was the guest of honour.
In an interview yesterday, Youth and Society (YAS) executive director Charles Kajoloweka, whose organisation is one of the five CSOs pressing the DPP to refund the money, said the CSOs want nothing short of a refund of the money to the donor public institutions.
He said: “We have received a response from DPP. We will review their response and form our position in the best interest of the public.
“At this stage, our position remains the same: the party must pay back the money and publish names of institutions they siphoned money from.”
Among other demands, the CSOs want the DPP to furnish the public with a list of all the public/statutory corporations that made the donations towards the said Blue Night event complete with amounts of money donated.
Besides YAS, other CSOs pushing for the refund are the Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), Church and Society Programme, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC).
And in a letter dated August 7 2017 addressed to the DPP and copied to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, Secretary to the Treasury, the Auditor General, the Attorney General and board chairpersons of parastatal organisations, MLS accuses DPP of committing one of the worst forms of misuse and abuse of public funds.
The letter, signed by MLS president Khumbo Bonzoe Soko, reads in part: “The Society has learnt with extreme dismay that at or during the fundraising event held by DPP and termed ‘Blue Night’, the party was offered money in form of pledges and in some instances actually received money from parastatals and other government agencies.
“The issue concerning management of public funds is an issue of law. Such being the case, the Society feels duty-bound to register its protestation in the strongest terms possible, the blatant misuse and abuse of public funds by parastatal organisations and other government agencies.”
Under Section 178 of the Constitution and Section 23 of the Public Finance Management Act, no single kwacha of public money is supposed to be expended unless such expenditure is authorised by an Appropriation Act or is a statutory expenditure.
Apart from the DPP, the CSOs also want to take to court the affected parastatals and “any other person” involved in the matter.