Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Malawi want government to probe the value of late president Bingu wa Mutharikaâ€™s wealth amassed during his time in power and how he acquired it.
The call comes amid speculation that the late Mutharika accumulated too much wealth during the eight years he was president. Unverified figures being discussed in the social media put his money and property both in Malawi and outside in billions of kwacha.
Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), an umbrella body of over 90 NGOs, on Thursday said the investigation into Mutharikaâ€™s properties, business interests and money in bank accounts is crucial to clear speculation on his assets.
Mutharika died at the time CSOs were pushing for the declaration of sources of funds he used to build his multi-million mansion at Ndata Farm in Thyolo. Mutharikaâ€™s wealth was also among issues of dialogue between government negotiating team and CSOs.
â€œThere are insinuations to the effect that people would want to know how much Bingu amassed when he was in office. The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and courts should investigate the authenticity of his alleged wealth.
â€œWhat we are saying is that Malawians have a right to know,â€ said HRCC acting coordinator Rev. MacDonald Sembereka.
He added: â€œWe have to know how much one has at the entry point and how much one will have accumulated at the point of exit. We should be able to follow it up on the basis of an informed position.
â€œWe have to know how much he [Mutharika] had and how much he has gone with.â€
Section 88 (3) of the Constitution says that the President and members of the Cabinet must disclose their assets within three months from the time of election or appointment. But there is no Act of Parliament to back it up.
Chancellor College associate professor of law Edge Kanyongolo said the issue of declaration of Mutharikaâ€™s wealth could be pursued with the administrator of his estate.
â€œThe issue can be examined when the estate is disclosed. I think people can still find ways of asking questions on how that wealth was accumulated. Since the president is dead, those questions will have to be answered by the estate [administrators],â€ said Kanyongolo.
He added that the law requires that the President and all Cabinet ministers declare their wealth within three months from the day they are elected or appointed into office.
â€œSection 88(3) of the Constitution makes it clear that the President and members of the Cabinet must declare their assets within three months from the day of election or appointment,â€ said Kanyongolo.
He, however, said the constitutional provision lacks a supporting Act of Parliament to stipulate specific procedures and processes for asset declaration, and penalties for failure to comply with the provision.
Speaker of Parliament Henry Chimunthu Banda on Tuesday said Mutharika and his Cabinet, which included the then vice-president Joyce Banda, now President, declared their wealth soon after 2009 General Elections.
â€œCabinet produced to us copies and a letter which came in two tranches. The final tranche carried information that everybody had declared from the President to the deputy ministers,â€ said Chimunthu Banda.
When asked whether Banda is supposed to declare her assets again following her ascension to the presidency, he said the question would need to be referred to the Attorney General (AG) for interpretation.
AG Maxon Mbendera could not be reached on his phone on Thursday and Solicitor General Anthony Kamanga said the Ministry of Justice will wait for Parliament to officially write them to give their opinion on the matter.
Kanyongolo also said he needed time to research on whether Banda needs to declare her assets again when she already declared the same within the same term of office running from 2009 to 2014.
Malawi Law Society (MLS) president John Gift Mwakhwawa said they do not want to comment on matters surrounding Mutharikaâ€™s death until he is buried to accord respect to the fallen leader.
But a member of the society said Banda does not need to declare her wealth again if she already declared in 2009 as the countryâ€™s veep.
â€œShe doesnâ€™t need to declare again. The assumption is that you already know the amount of her wealth in the term she was elected,â€ said the member.
Sembereka also said it was not necessary for Banda to declare her wealth again if she has not acquired additional assets from 2009.
Said Sembereka: â€œBut we would want to see if she is interested to tell us that in the process she has accumulated additional wealth. But if there are no any additional assets accumulated in the process, we donâ€™t think itâ€™s necessary if she already declared.â€