Taxpayer-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is asking the High Court in Blantyre to stop President Joyce Banda from personally distributing public maize during campaign rallies.
MHRC, which is also seeking for an order for the President to pay money to government equivalent to the maize already distributed through her People’s Party (PP), described Banda’s actions as illegal, unconstitutional and unreasonable.
With only 13 days to the May 20 Tripartite Elections, MHRC applied for judicial review this week against the State and the President on the matter and the High Court is yet to allow the application.
The human rights body wants the court to make a declaration that the decision by the President to deem and treat the maize received from foreign States and well-wishers like personal or party property places her in a position of interest and duty conflict and it constitutes a breach of fiduciary duties outlined in Section 12 and 13 (o) of the Constitution.
Section 12 sets out underlying principles upon which the Constitution is founded while Section 13 (o) demands that the State should “introduce measures which will guarantee accountability, transparency, personal integrity and financial probity and which by virtue of their effectiveness and transparency will strengthen confidence in public institutions.”
MHRC also wants a declaration from the court that the President’s use of the maize to the benefit of the PP constitutes conversion.
Reads the court documents: “[We want] a declaration that the decision of the respondent [Banda] to distribute maize at political or development rallies violates the right to equality of opportunity in access to food, the right to human dignity and the right to information.”
The human rights body wants the court to quash the decision and make an order to force the President hand over the maize to the Department of Disaster, Relief and Preparedness.
MHRC, which is also seeking an injunction to stop the President from further distribution of the maize, wants the President to disclose sources of the maize, the amount and criteria used for distribution.
The human rights body argues that hiding of this information is contrary to transparency and accountability requirements in Section 12 and 13 of the Constitution and the right to access to information guaranteed in Section 37 of the Constitution.
Despite condemnation by the MHRC, other civil society organisations, religious groups and political parties among others, Banda has vowed more than once that she would not stop distributing maize to the marginalised Malawians.
In March this year, MHRC reported Malawi to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in Geneva that increasing distribution of food through political channels as practised by the PP in the run-up to the May 20 polls risked creating inequality between those who deserve relief and party supporters.
MHRC submitted the report following a report on the right to food presentation from UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Professor Olivier De Schutter, who visited Malawi in July last year.
The commission told the UN council that government’s politicisation of food would put access beyond the reach of the most vulnerable in society.