State-owned Electricity Generation Company (Egenco) has stirred criticism for sponsoring a billboard that is apparently endorsing incumbent President Peter Mutharika’s candidacy in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
The billboard, located near the Clock Tower Roundabout along the dual-carriageway Masauko Chipembere Highway in Blantyre, screams that ‘APM Delivers’ and has a tick sign in red just below the President’s portrait.
Ironically, the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has also been using the same ‘APM Delivers’ tagline in its quest for re-election.
A political commentator said the development could prove the first ultimate test of the newly enacted Political Parties Act which in Section 27(3) prohibits political parties from receiving donations from State-owned corporations.
Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party have also reacted angrily to Egenco’s gesture, stating that it is in contravention of the Political Parties Act.
MCP publicity secretary the Reverend Maurice Munthali said his party feels the act is “outright contravention of clear laws and statutes governing politics and elections”.
He said: “This shows impunity of the highest order. Egenco and the Mutharika administration must know that there is now no room for any public institution to dance to political tunes of the ruling elite.”
UTM Party secretary general Patricia Kaliati blamed the office of the Registrar of Political Parties for allegedly failing to enforce the law.
She said: “That office is failing in its duty. It is disheartening to realise how much money and time were spent in coming up with that Act. It is apparent that the registrar is failing to implement the law.”
In a written response, Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) executive director Kizito Tenthani, whose organisation sponsored the law, said Egenco’s action was not in line with the law which came into force on December 1 2018 and, among other things, seeks to guide how funding of political parties should be administered.
He said: “In my view, this [Egenco’s sponsoring of political campaign] is in contravention with the legal provision as cited in Section 27 of the Act. The Registrar of Political Parties or the courts would determine the penalties. But that depends if someone moves the authorities.”
Weighing in, Garton Kamchedzera, an associate professor of law at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, yesterday said while there was a technicality problem in that the Political Parties Act does not expressly define ‘donations’, Egenco had breached the law by erecting the billboard which was benefiting a political party or candidate.
He said: “When giving an ordinary meaning to this section, donations would mean money. But other laws define donations as being in cash or kind.
“The law was premised on a resolve to ensure that State companies are not used as conduits for funding political campaign.
“If the candidate or party benefiting has not protested, then they are in complicit. Egenco too and any State corporation is by doing this getting directly involved in political campaign which is illegal.”
Political and governance commentator Augustine Magolowondo said with the development, there was need to define what ‘donations’ entail.
He said: “If taken narrowly, donations would mean cash. In that context, both Egenco and the benefiting party would deny donating and receiving a donation, respectively.
“But the major question would be that the raising of such a billboard cost money which the candidate or party benefiting would have spent from their own coffers. From that broader perspective, you will find that the candidate or party on the billboard is benefiting from State funds illegally.”
Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) director of media and public relations Sangwani Mwafulirwa yesterday referred the matter to the registrar of political parties Chikumbutso Namelo who said Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs was better placed to comment.
DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi refused to take questions on the issue and referred The Nation to the official government spokesperson Henry Mussa, who is also Minister of Information and Communications Technology. Mussa did not pick up his call on several attempts.
But when asked to explain the rationale behind using public funds for a billboard with political connotations, especially during the 60-day official campaign for the election, Egenco senior public relations officer Moses Gwaza said the statutory corporation has not made a donation to the governing party.
He said: “There is no billboard drumming up support for any political party. The only one from Egenco is talking about rehabilitation, modernisation and upgrading works for the Nkula A project.
“There is a picture of the Head of State [on the billboard] recognising the unwavering support the government provided throughout the project financed by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The checked box signifies the completion of the project. That is not politics at all, therefore, this is not campaign.”