In order to discuss political party financing in Malawi, it is crucial to first set the legal and regulatory context.
Article 40.2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi (1994) provides for funding of political parties by the State “to ensure that, during the life of any Parliament, any political party which has secured more than one-tenth of the national vote in elections to that Parliament has sufficient funds to continue to represent its constituency.”
Then the Political Parties Act of 2018 expounds not just on the laws, but also provides rules and regulations on financing not only from the State, but private individuals too.
The Political Parties Act wants parties to get funding for certain purposes. The first is for the party to promote its representation in Parliament. Second, such a party should use the funds to boost active participation of individual citizens in political life; third, to cover the party’s election expenses. Fourth, because of its proven grassroots support, such a political grouping can use some of those resources to help civic educate people on democracy and other political processes; and of course, the fifth one is to pay for administrative and staff expenses. The law also allows parties to receive money from private individuals and organisations. The Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act (Chapter 2:01) (66) states that “every political party may, for the purpose of financing its campaign, appeal for and receive voluntary contributions from any individual or any non-governmental organisations or other private organisation in or outside Malawi.”
Even the Political Parties Act of 2018 also has the provisions and goes further to put certain limitations such as:
lIf the donations from an individual donor exceed K1 million and if they are in excess of K2 million from an organisation, the party must declare the money to the Registrar of Political Parties within 30 days of receipt.
l The individuals who have donated more than K1 million should also declare that to the registrar and so should the organisations donating more than K2 million.
And here is the kicker, folks: if donors or political parties fail to declare, they will be slapped with a fine equal “to the amount of the funds or the value of the assets not declared or in relation to which false information was given, and to imprisonment for two years”.
I don’t know how compliant these parties have been as government has played hide and seek in operationalizing the law.
I can only hope that authorities will be serious this time so that the historic fresh presidential elections become the pilot for a new era of transparency and accountability in political party financing.
And that brings me to the issue of Simbi Phiri, the executive chairman of Khato Civils.
Phiri has been honest and transparent enough to state that he has provided financial support to two of the country’s major political parties—Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) mostly before the new Act kicked in.
He has also said individual politicians from both parties—especially those seeking parliamentary seats—have also gone to him with begging bowls.
He has drilled boreholes for them in their names and helped with other resources because, according to him, he believed those individuals would contribute to national development in a patriotic manner.
The question is: Why are DPP, MCP and the politicians in the parties who have received financial and material support from Phiri not being honest enough to confirm that yes, he helped finance them and disclose how much they got from him?
The truth is that they will not because they are not as honest as Phiri in this context, and if there is any venting that needs to be released, it has to be on these two parties and their politicians who refuse to be transparent, not Phiri—a man who has shown he has nothing and no reason to hide anything because he does it out of conviction, not necessarily expecting these murky politicians to grant him business favours once they happen to have the power to do so.