Figure heads! That is the tag that suits treasurer generals of Malawi’s political parties, including the big four. They hold the titles, but it is their party presidents that keep the money, and only the presidents know sources of the funds.
Such is the scenario in Malawi politics where in typical style of ‘from rags to riches;’ parties aspiring to go into government suddenly transform from failing to pay rentals of their national offices to big spenders during campaign.
The week presidential candidates presented nomination papers for the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections epitomised a carnival display of opulence for the country’s four major political parties. There was an exhibit of wealth among them all, the kind whose source remains a mystery.
A former treasurer of a party that was once in government; and a former United Democratic Front (UDF) member of Parliament Gerald Mponda admit that for a political party to stage a formidable general election campaign it needs between K5 billion and K10 billion.
However, Mponda said no party treasurer general in Malawi knows or can explain where their funding comes from because they are just figure heads in the kitty keeping job.
According to Mponda, political parties are funded, mostly during elections, by “well-wishers”, but “envelopes and briefcases from the well-wishers do not go through the treasurer generals. It is the party president who knows where the money comes from and controls the purse.”
Information available at the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC)—confirmed by the commission’s spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa—indicates that in the 2014 Tripartite Elections, People’s Party (PP), United Democratic Front (UDF) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) paid nomination fees for most of their parliamentary candidates whereas the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) only paid K550 000 for three parliamentary hopefuls.
MCP paid K13 million for its parliamentary and presidential candidates, UDF paid K35 million for parliamentary and presidential candidates whereas PP paid K32.4 million for its parliamentary and presidential candidates.
But in recent separate interviews, the four parties refused to be specific about their sources of income and the amount they spent during the 2014 campaign.
A politician who has served both DPP and PP governments said the major source of funding—both local and foreign—for political parties come from people who have either interest to have access to government business or have motives that have to be promoted by government.
Asked to explain where the ruling party gets its money for operations, DPP spokesperson Francis Kasaila said the party has four sources of income: parliamentary funding, fundraising activities organised by the party, resources provided by the president of the party and resources spent by election candidates from their own incomes.
He, however, said DPP could not disclose all the information on funding because—like any other organisation—it becomes necessary sometimes to keep some information in-house for strategic purposes.
PP spokesperson Ken Msonda denied his party’s connection to Cashgate money funding political campaign as alluded to by some convicted individuals, saying the party was transparent and accountable for the source of funding of the 2014 tripartite elections campaign.
UDF spokesperson Ken Ndanga said it was difficult to achieve absolute transparency in Malawi considering the environment that political parties operate from.
Welcoming the CMD initiative, Ndanga said the issue of not disclosing sources of income for political parties arises from the fact that almost all business opportunities in Malawi are controlled by government machinery and those perceived or discovered to be financing parties outside government are victimised by being denied business.
“As such, we are compelled not to disclose their names [well-wishers] for fear of reprisals. We really need a political party legislation now,” he said.
CMD’s proposed bill covers private funding and receipt of donations, separate bank account for private funding, registration and declaration of assets and members’ access to financial records.
Section 23 (2) of the proposed Bill reads in part: “A registered political party may, for the purposes of financing its activities, appeal for and receive donations from any individual or organisation in or outside Malawi, provided that the source of every donation, exceeding K1 million from an individual donor and K2 million from an organisation shall, within 30 days of its receipt, be declared to the registrar [of political parties] by the party concerned.”
It also stipulates that any person who uses or threatens to use force or violence, injures, damages or harms any person who donates or intends to donate any funds to a candidate, or a member of his family or any of his undertakings, commits an offence and is liable to a fine of K500 000 and imprisonment for five years.
CMD executive director Kizito Tenthani said under financing of political parties, the Bill has issues to do with public financing of political parties.
“While it is common knowledge that political parties get finances from private sources, the current law does not say anything regarding private financing of political parties. An honest study of political parties in Malawi will show political parties that are in power are well endowed with resources. This is true from the time of MCP, to UDF, DPP and PP,” said Tenthani.
He added: “The irony has been that immediately a party gets out of power, they appear to also lose their grip on resources. The question of abuse of public resources has not been ruled out. And interest in this relationship has been compounded by the Cashgate saga, leading people to suspect that political parties have most likely been beneficiaries of proceeds of crime.