- Law Society demands disclosure of financiers
- Registrar says no party has declared yet
Malawi Law Society (MLS) has asked the Registrar of Political Parties to disclose sources and amounts of money four major political parties received between January 1 2019 and December 31 2020.
In a letter dated July 20 2021, the lawyers’ body is demanding a report from the registrar on the state of the parties compliance under Political Parties Act.
The four parties mentioned in the MLS letter are Malawi Congress Party (MCP), UTM Party—which are the main parties in the Tonse Alliance administration—and opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and United Democratic Front (UDF).
In an interview yesterday, MLS honorary secretary Chrispin Ngunde confirmed that the society is seeking the information on behalf of the public and that they expect to hear from the registrar within 15 days ending on August 5 2021.
He said: “Indeed, we have sent this letter in line with our legal responsibility. We will wait for the answer in the time set by law and take the next step depending on the feedback we get on record.”
But the registrar, Chikumbutso Namelo, yesterday said there is no political party that has made declarations to date. He said his office was finalising other processes to ensure compliance by the parties.
The registrar, who is based in Blantyre, said he was away in Salima and had not yet seen the MLS letter.
In the letter signed by its chief executive officer Mzati Sydney Mbeko, MLS said that the country underwent general elections in 2019 and presidential election in 2020.
Reads the letter in part: “The four political parties copied provided the four major contestants and/or partners to the presidential and parliamentary race.
“They evidently spent substantial sums of money during the campaign canvassing for votes from the electorate with a view to ultimately serve the public and to protect public interests as required in Section 12 of the Constitution.”
MLS said the information is important to evaluate private political party financing in the period and how it impacts on several matters of governance and the rule of law; and, to determine how effectively public interest is protected in the process and in subsequent dealings of the political parties.
In the letter, MLS is demanding the registrar to make available copies of the accounts audited by a certified public accountant in respect of all private funding received by each of the political parties.
The lawyers’ body also wants to know if government is complying with the Act to make the office of the Registrar of Political Parties independent.
Further reads the letter in part: “We request the current state of affairs and progress in view of the fact that your office is supposed to serve on interim basis under the Act.
“Guided by Section 19 of the Access to Information Act, the society looks forward to hearing from you, Honourable Registrar General.”
MLS said it has embarked on public interest legal audit focusing on the state of compliance with the Political Parties Act of 2018 and the Constitution in line with its constitutional and statutory mandate to enhance constitutionalism, promote transparency and accountability under the rule of law and contribute to the fight against corruption and cronyism for the sake of protecting public interest on matters touching on the law in Malawi.
In a May 17 2021 letter, Centre for Democracy and Economic Initiatives (Cdedi) also made a similar demand and asked the registrar to provide the information within seven days or risk court action.
In Section 31, the Act demands a political party to at least once every year all financial records make available to its members.
But the registrar said in an interview that a form for the political parties to fill was only gazetted in January this year.
Namelo said the due date for the political parties to make disclosures was March 31 2021, but that due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, it was extended to June 30 2021.
He said that while the political parties are expected to make the declarations, his office was still scrutinising some processes.
Responding to a questionnaire on the issue, UDF secretary general Kandi Padambo yesterday said that his office had not yet received the MLS letter.
However, he said his party submitted all the information required by the Registrar of Political Parties upon registration under the new Act.
Padambo said: “As a member of CMD [Centre for Multiparty Democracy], UDF played a significant part in championing the Political Parties Act.
“You will also recall that after the Cashgate scandal became public knowledge, our party president, Rt. Hon. Atupele Muluzi, published our position as a party that there should be legislation which should compel political parties to disclose their financing.
“It is in view of the foregoing that the UDF will disclose all information required under the Political Parties Act.”
On her part, UTM Party secretary general Patricia Kaliati said in an interview yesterday that she saw the MLS letter in her office and that her party would make its position on Monday.
She said UTM Party, which is led by the country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima, is a transparent party and is ready to disclose the sources of its funding.
Kaliati said UTM Party is financed by its members and well-wishers.
CMD executive director Kizito Tenthani yesterday said people have to understand the role of the Registrar of Political Parties.
“One of the functions of the registrar is to ensure compliance with this Act. As such, it is within the functions of the office to ensure that political parties are complying with the Political Parties Act.
“The Act further requires that Political Parties through their secretaries general should declare any donations to the registrar exceeding a given threshold. From that understanding, the MLS is making a legitimate request from the registrar,” he said.
Tenthani also said it could be true that some administrative processes may not have been in place, but added that what is also true is that the Political Parties Act came into force on December 1 2018.
He said it is incumbent of the registrar to ensure that all the instruments are in place for the Act to be fully implemented.
Representatives of DPP and MCP were not immediately available to comment by press time.
Section 27 subsection 2 of the Act reads: “A political party may, for purposes of financing its activities, appeal for and receive donations from any individual or organisation within or outside Malawi, provided that the source of every donation, whether in cash or in kind and whether once or cumulatively, with a monetary value of at least K1 000 000 from an individual donor and of at least K2 000 000 from an organisation shall within 90 days of its receipt be declared to the registrar by the political party concerned.”
The public has always feared some individuals or organisations finance political parties with anticipation of receiving favours when that particular party gets into government.