The civil society organisations (CSOs) in Malawi call for President Joyce Banda to declare her assets has received a timely boost.
No less than 83 percent of respondents to a Nation on Sunday survey, which asked whether Banda should declare her assets, say she actually should do it, as a matter of urgency.
That even in the wake of comments by Malawiâ€™s Minister of Justice and Attorney General Ralph Kasambara who is on record as having trashed calls for the President to declare her assets, saying those calling for such a thing were being emotional.
â€œThere is no reason for her to declare her assets now because she was a member of the cabinet that was sworn in 2009. The Constitution, Section 88 (A) is very clear on this that the president or the vice president shall declare their assets within three months of being elected or appointed,â€ Kasambara told one media house in July this year.
But Human rights activist Billy Mayaya thinks otherwise.
â€œGiven the propensity for most presidents to plunder the State and amass huge wealth, I agree with the survey results because Joyce Banda is no longer VP. So, with her new status as president, she is obligated by law to declare her assets as a way of monitoring the fact that she does not use this public position to enrich herself.
â€œThe President is individually responsible for setting a precedent. Bingu [wa Mutharika] declared his assets and by the time of his demise he had amassed so much wealth beyond the figure he had originally declared,â€ said Mayaya.
So why does government seem so determined to go against the calls by CSOs and what now seems to be the prevalent opinion on the streets?
Mayaya said it can be construed as arrogance of power where public officials thumb their noses at clear legal provisions because they think they are above the law. He said declaring assets â€˜is not a choice but rather a necessity.â€™
Joseph Chunga, president of Political Science Association of Malawi (PSA) in an earlier interview on the same issue also underscored the point.
â€œIf JB wants to walk the talk on transparency, accountability and corruption fight, she needs to declare her assets again. This is not a legal question. It is a moral question filled with responsibilityâ€”the measure of a good leader,â€ said Chunga.
Well, governmentâ€™s spokesperson Moses Kunkuyu insists that government is not arrogant and that it would never do anything to go against or lose the trust of Malawians who have so far been supportive to its agenda.
Kunkuyu said the debate has all along been hinged on the legal angle and therefore Kasambaraâ€™s statement stands, him being the legal mind of government.
And now that the issue is a moral one, where despite it being â€˜legal,â€™ so many people still want Banda to declare her assets, will government listen?
â€œNow that the debate has become a moral issue, then I will have to ask the President when she comes back [from New York, USA] but mind you, morality can also infringe on constitutionality,â€ said Kunkuyu.
Presidential Press Secretary Steven Nhlane also reportedly said the President is ready to declare her assets again if that is what the law requires.
Kunkuyu said the fact the President has actually showed willingness to declare her assets shows that she is actually not against it, only that she was acting along legal lines not moral ones as the current debate posits.
â€œYou need to find another word because arrogant is not a good word, government is very accountable. The inflow of people wanting to help government speaks of the trust people have in government and we do not want to lose that trust,â€ said a very calm Kunkuyu.
Chunga adds that Malawians should go beyond just arguing for asset declaration. He said Malawians need to question the very idea of declaring assets to the Speaker of Parliament who can choose to sit on the information.
All eyes will now turn on Joyce Banda and wait to see if she will heed or ignore this deafening call by Malawians.Â