Speaker of the National Assembly Catherine Gotani Hara will in the November sitting of Parliament decide the fate of 11 members of Parliament who contravened the law on declaration of assets after the May 19 2019 Tripartite Elections.
The development follows the submission by the Parliamentary Monitoring Committee of its findings and recommendations on an inquiry it carried out on 32 MPs and 65 councilors which the Office of Director of Public Officers Declarations (Odpod) referred to it for its action for not declaring their assets during the financial year 2019/2020.
But when the committee instituted an inquiry into the issue, by following up with the Parliamentary secretariat, councils and summoned the concerned individuals, it discovered that only 11 legislators defaulted.
Last month, the Monitoring Committee submitted its recommendations to Odpod director Michael Chiusiwa for action based on his legal powers and the contents of the committee’s report.
Both the Odpod spokesperson Tiyamike Phiri and assistant Clerk of Parliament responsible for press and public relations Ian Mwenye in separate interviews confirmed the report was submitted to Odpod.
Phiri said her office is processing the report and at the same time it has scheduled a meeting with the Parliamentary Monitoring Committee.
Section 18 (1) of the Public Officer’s (Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Business Interests) Act of 2013 states if a public officer fails to submit the required declaration without reasonable cause within the time determined by the Act, he or she is liable to be dismissed from public office.
The law further obliges the Odpod to report errant MPs to the Speaker for her to declare their seats vacant. In the case of Cabinet Ministers and other higher ranking officers Odpod reports them to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).
According to Standing Order 207 (4), the Speaker receives a petition to declare a seat vacant after which s/he serves notice to the concerned MPs to respond to the allegations.
The ball is now in the Odpod’s court which is currently processing recommendations from the Parliamentary Monitoring Committee and will submit a report to the Speaker to act on.
The 11 MPs from various political parties and independents flouted the Public Officer’s (Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Business Interests) Act of 2013 by failing to declare their assets, liabilities and business interests within 90 days after assuming their offices following the 2019 Tripartite Elections.
The role of the Parliamentary Monitoring Committee is drawn from Section 213 (4) of the Constitution, as read with Section 13 (2) (b) (c) of the Public Officers (Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Business Interests) Act.
The committee comprises three parliamentary committees of Public Appointments, Legal Affairs and Budget and Finance and serves all listed public officers regardless of the branch of government an officer belongs to.
On Tuesday, chairperson of the Parliamentary Monitoring Committee Joyce Chitsulo confirmed conducting the inquiry but declined to divulge further details referring Weekend Nation to Mwenye.
According to a list of the noncompliant legislators which Weekend Nation has seen, the 11 include five independent MPs, three from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), two for Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and one from UTM Party.
There are three categories of listed public officers that include political category, senior category and others. The referral to the committee started with the political class while the remaining two will be done later.
Thus, the public will eagerly be waiting as Parliament sitting resumes to witness the Speaker’s action after such legislators were left scot-free by previous regimes without meting out any punitive measures regardless of the binding law that demands removal from office, among other penalties.
In 2018, the Odpod exposed six MPs, including a Cabinet minister who did not declare their assets, but after writing the then Speaker Richard Msowoya to declare their seats vacant, OPC rejected the request.
The six included former Cabinet minister Grace Chiumia, George Chaponda, jailed Christopher Mzomera Ngwira, Willard Gwengwe, Henry Shaba and Davis Kadzinja.
Four Cabinet ministers also survived the knife in 2016 after former President Peter Mutharika disregarded the law to relieve them of their duties. They included Goodal Gondwe, Joseph Mwanamvekha and again George Chaponda and Grace Chiumia.
In 2019 Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee (PAC) recommended that at least 2 000 listed public officers, including two Cabinet ministers and eight MPs, be named and shamed through the media after noting previous defaulters were left scot-free.
There are currently 193 parliamentary seats and 462 wards across the country’s 35 councils.
According to the Odpod spokesperson there has been an improvement in quality and efficiency of assets declaration by all listed public officers.
“Currently, there are over 15 000 public officers in our data base who have so far declared their assets, liabilities and business interests since the inception of the directorate in 2014,” said Phiri.
Phiri said the improvement was due to, among others, the critical role the Parliamentary Monitoring Committee was playing both in Parliament and outside it in educating, conscientising, encouraging and mobilising listed public officers at different levels to declare their assets.
Stakeholders have stressed the need to review the Act to give the directorate more teeth to bite as its current enforcement powers leave lawbreakers walk scot-free.
But Phiri said the law reform was one of the three pillars the directorate had identified in its reform agenda, in line with the Public Service Reform agenda and the exercise was progressing.
Executive director of Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (Csat) Willy Kambwandira said in an interview failure by listed public officer to disclose assets leaves room for corruption.
“We have seen in the past, how some public officers amassed a lot of questionable wealth during their stay in office,” noted Kambwandira.
However, he hinted not all non-compliance was due to impunity but rather some mechanics around the processes and procedures of declaration.
Currently, Csat is collaborating with Odpod to raise public awareness on the law and support compliance initiatives.
He said: “We have noted there are a number of challenges contributing to the failure by some listed public officers to declare their assets so we are working with Odpod to ensure such hiccups are cleared and people can easily and competently declare their assets.
“In terms of enforcement of the law we understand PAC is supposed to take action and we expect them to take necessary action as stipulated in the law.”
Lonny Chunda of Zingwangwa in Blantyre said she expected relevant authorities to show their wits this time around by sticking to the law when handling the issue of noncompliant MPs.
The Odpod was set up in 2013 during President Joyce Banda’s administration with the mission to promote public confidence in the public service through curbing of corrupt practices by ensuring the listed public officers declare their assets, liabilities and business interests.
The Act mandates the Odpod to receive, verify and publicise public officers’ declarations and educate the public on the declaration system.