- Facing cuts: MHRC, Law Commission
- No additional funding: MEC, ACB
Efforts to stem corruption, provide access to justice, promote human dignity and ensure free and fair elections will remain stifled. This follows Treasury’s decision to trim or not to increase funding to critical governance bodies such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), Legal Aid Bureau and Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC).
A human rights activist has since termed failure to increase allocation to the critical organisations as a deliberate effort to cripple them and prevent Malawians from enjoying their rights.
Among bodies whose allocations have been reduced at mid-term include MHRC whose mission is to lead in the protection and promotion of human rights as well as providing access to effective remedies for human rights violations.
The commission has also been tasked with promoting and monitoring that all Malawians have access to information through the recently assented to Access to Information Act.
While the country continues to register various human rights violations, the budget of MHRC, a constitutional body mandated to investigate them, has been reduced by K6 million from K438 852 106 to K432 852 106.
On MHRC, Legal Affairs Committee chairperson Maxwell Thyolera expressed concern that any reduction to the commission would reduce the impact of its oversight functions.
“MHRC has complained on many occasions that they are underfunded. Any amount would make a difference in changing their operations for the better. As a matter of fact, they have extra responsibility with the Access to Information Act as an oversight function,” Thyolera said.
Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe, however, said the K6 million cut was to the travel budget which would not affect its effectiveness. He confirmed that the money would be cut from the Other Recurrent Transaction (ORT).
On Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) budget of K2.8 billion which has remained static regardless of scheduled parliamentary by-elections in June, Thyolera told Gondwe that the commission had complained of having no funding for by-election but the minister said MEC had not informed him about the matter.
On the other hand, ACB’s funding remains static as approved budget was about K2 billion some of which was to be used to complete 170 investigations and prosecute 20 corruption cases during the 2016/17 financial year.
In an interview, ACB director Lucas Kondowe said government last financial year approved a request for additional funding even after mid-year Budget Review. He expressed hope that another request to Treasury would be met with favour.
“We understand financial resources are always a challenge and that the resource envelope is limited. If the question is do we have enough resources, the answer is no. Has the government helped when we are in dire need? Then the answer is yes. But it is what it is,” Kondowe said.
With an inadequate allocation the previous financial year, the Legal Aid Bureau managed to provide litigation on 4 663 criminal cases and 6 039 civil cases as well as providing legal aid clinics to 25 prisons across the country and selected communities.
The bureau, which provides free legal services to the masses, also faced funding hiccup last year, forcing it to suspend defending of homicide cases in the country.
However, its budget has not moved from the initially approved K413.1 million which the bureau planned to use to provide litigation on 5 500 criminal cases and 800 homicide cases, apart from providing legal aid on 12 500 civil cases.
Although the Legal Aid Bureau has an authorised establishment of 262, only 75 posts were to be filled in the 2016/17 financial year.
In an interview yesterday, Legal Aid Bureau director Masauko Chamkakala said while they did not make an application for additional funding following advice that it would not be possible as government was responding to the hunger situation, the budget was not enough.
“Programmes affected include homicide cases and generally all other cases as logistical support remains a challenge. Not all our challenges were adequately provided for. As said, we are failing to undertake homicide cases,” he said.
However, Chamkakala said government had at least provided them with K90 million for the recruitment of 10 new lawyers and a good number of support staff.
Another governance institution that has been affected is the Malawi Law Commission which has had its budget reduced from K464 million to K453 million, with a K20 million reduction on ORT.
One of the programmes of the Law Commission for the financial year are new Law Reform Programmes on the review of the Citizenship Act, review of the Electoral Laws and review of the Judicature Act, apart from ongoing programmes such as review of the Witchcraft Act, development of legislation on Spent Convictions, review of the Prisons Act and review of the Public Health Act.
However, there is good news for the Directorate of Public Prosecution and State Advocate whose K642 million has been increased to K648 million following a K6 million increase to the personal emoluments budget.
Treasury has also proposed an increase to the Registrar General’s Department, an additional K100 million for ORT and K12.2 million for salaries and allowances increasing the allocation to K521.2 million from K409.4 million.
The personal emoluments for the Office of the Ombudsman has also been increased by K107 million to K339 million while reducing ORT to K135 million from K150 million.
But rights activist Gift Trapence said it was time that the trend to stifle rights bodies through inadequate resources came to an end.