Sheer hypocrisy! Political parties that get funding from Parliament are not promoting a spirit of accountability as their accounts are not audited for the millions of taxpayers’ money they receive.
However, the Malawi Law Society (MLS) says the parties will not continue getting away with this tendency as it is calling for a review of the Public Finance Management Act to seal loopholes that parties exploit to use public funds willy-nilly.
The Malawi Constitution, under Section 40 (2), stipulates that parties that got a minimum of 10 percent of the votes during parliamentary elections are eligible for funding and according to Parliament, such parties receive quarterly (every three months) funding of K8 million. At the end of a five-year term, they receive a combined K160 million.
While parties downplay the figure as negligible, analysts say in the spirit of accountability, parties should be audited for this money and other millions they receive even from well-wishers.
In a series of interviews, major political parties which receive subvention from Parliament failed to demonstrate how their accounts are independently and credibly audited.
The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), for example, through its treasurer general Henry Mussa said its accounts are audited by fellow party members on voluntary basis, leaving questions over credibility of such audits.
“We do get audited. As an organisation, we care about how we use our finances and the treasurer general is required by party laws to account for the finances at the annual general meeting. We believe the process is credible enough. Within the party, there are various experts and professionals who help us with such work,” said Mussa.
Quizzed if such audits do not fall under conflict of interest; hence not credible. Mussa insisted the party officials do not interfere with the work which is done by credible firms which they own but fell short of naming any particular audit firms which audit the party.
People’s Party (PP) leader in Parliament, Ralph Jooma, while conceding that parties need to be audited for both Parliament funding and donations, noted that the exercise will be an unnecessary cost to the taxpayer as the money which parties receive is to little to warrant an audit.
“For example, we are spending more on salaries for party employees than the money we are getting from Parliament. We think much as accountability is important, this will create extra strain on Parliament’s little resources. It is better that parties should account to their members and funders than use public resources,” said Jooma.
MCP’s Jessie Kabwila also said her party receives financial reports at its AGM, but was also unaware of any auditing firm which audits its accounting books.
“Maybe there are some firms, but let me ask the relevant people and come back to you,” said Kabwila.
Though Parliament spokesperson Leonard Mengezi yesterday said there was no immediate plan for the National Assembly to start auditing parties in the House, MLS honorary secretary Khumbo Soko said in an interview the Law Society will call for reforms.
He added that even within the existing legal framework, parties should still be held accountable for money which they receive, particularly from taxpayers.
“The obvious thing is that for every public penny any institution receives, it has to be properly accountable for. The Public Finance Management Act should be clear so that it must apply to political parties as well. We will look at the law again and make the rightful recommendations so that it is applicable and parties have no excuses,” Soko said.
Chairperson for Civil Society Network on Transparency and Accountability and executive director for Centre for Human Rights Rehabilitation (CHRR) Timothy Mtambo described the development as “very unfortunate”.
“To be honest, this is unimaginable. How can they be receiving funds without being audited? Auditing is a fundamental and basic requirement in financial management,” said Mtambo.
Parties in Malawi do not also disclose private sources of their funding; hence, the Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) has since proposed a bill that covers private funding and receipt of donations to ensure that there is transparency in the way parties handle funding. n