Malawians will have to wait longer for the constituency demarcation exercise as Minister of Finance Felix Mlusu has withdrawn the K500 million initially allocated for the task in the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) budget.
The minister told Parliament on Friday that the withdrawn allocation has since been channelled to Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and Independent Complaints Commission.
But the development has not pleased MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika who said yesterday that the electoral body was geared up for the exercise.
Meanwhile, a political analyst has since described the withdrawal as a setback to the country’s democracy.
Alfandika said government underfunded MEC by allocating K500 million and that the electoral body requested for an additional K800 million to make it K1.3 billion.
He said: “We have all the paperwork completed. We have the budget, we have the road map and tthis activity [constituency demarcation] started before the fresh presidential election. We had to suspend it because we needed to conduct the election first.
“So, it is not true that MEC is not ready. We have undertaken study visits. We know how to conduct the activity. All we were waiting for was the money.”
Alfandika said the electoral body expected Parliament to approve funding for the work, saying the exercise in question is crucial to the country’s democracy.
Alfandika said representation is not balanced and there is need to address that.
In justifying the withdrawal of constituency demarcation funds, Mlusu said the decision was informed by a recommendation from the Cluster Committee on Commissions, Public Appointments and Statutory Bodies to reallocate the funds to other areas purportedly because MEC was not ready.
The minister asked MEC to submit a detailed work plan for funding consideration in the 2021/22 National Budget.
He said: “Honourable members may wish to know that the Independent Complaints Commission has been allocated K350 million to start its operations while the Malawi Human Rights Commission has been allocated an additional K150 million for the operationalisation of Access to Information Act and Gender Equality Act.”
Reacting to the development, Mustafa Hussein, a political scientist at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi— described government’s decision to withdraw funding as a step backward in promoting democracy.
He said: “It is a retrogressive move in the sense that government is not sensitive to the importance of redemarcation of constituencies. It undermines a key democratic principle of representation.
“Malawians need to be well represented. Where constituencies are too big, they could be split into two or more and where they have become smaller, they have to be expanded.”
Malawi last carried out the exercise in 1999 when the number of constituencies increased from 177 to 193.
However, over the years, it transpired that some constituencies were too big in geographical size, some with few or more registered voters, a situation that negatively affected allocation of resources and development as constituencies receive a uniform allocation through Constituency Development Fund.