The Political Party Bill which if enacted by Parliament, will compel political parties to disclose their party funding, to avoid what has happened recently in which the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) received funds from government agencies during its fundraising called Blue Night. In this interview, our reporter AYAMI MKWANDA engages Kandi Padambo who is the chairperson of Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) and United Democratic Front (UDF) secretary general on his take on the proposed Bill. Excerpts:
How much will this law help to strengthen our democracy?
The proposed law will go a long way in enhancing and strengthening our fledgling democracy. There are provisions that seek to ensure that any party seeking registration must demonstrate support in all the country’s districts. This will ensure nationwide support and will in one way or the other redress the ethno-regionalism that dents our political landscape. Once the party secures registration, the proposed legislation will encourage intra-party democracy by, for example, compelling parties to hold annual conferences or conventions.
As you are aware Malawi has quite a number of political parties, perhaps too many for the health of our democracy? It would be understood if one wondered whether all the political parties in the fray are for the serious reason offering definitive political direction of Mother Malawi or merely for the satisfaction of various egos. The Bill seeks to bring sanity in this area. If it is enacted into law, a political party which, after two general elections fails to secure at least a seat in Parliament or two seats in local government assemblies or 10 percent of total votes cast nationally for parliamentary seats or five percent of total votes cast nationally in local government elections, will risk deregistration. This is a move in the right direction and is much less harsher than what obtains in other countries such as that of the Republic of South-Africa.
Is that all?
No, when the proposed law is duly approved, the legal personality of political parties will be more clearly clarified. Political parties will now be able to own assets and owe liabilities, sue and be sued in their own name and thereby enhancing the institutionalisation and independence of the political parties. Then there are the financial proposals. The Auditor General [AG] and an appointed auditor who must be a certified public accountant, for State funding and private funding respectively, are now brought into the picture. This will afford assurance of proper application of State funds by qualifying or eligible parties and of privately raised funds from donations and fees to members through certified reports by the independent auditors.
Is the UDF ready to disclose their sources of funding as we approach 2019 Tripartite Elections?
I am sure you will recall that when the unfortunate large scale looting of our public coffers, infamously referred to as Cashgate came to the attention of the public, my party president [Atupele Muluzi] issued a statement calling for disclosure of sources of funding by political parties. The argument was that if political parties are compelled to disclose sources of their funding, we may make siphoning of public funds, at the behest of political parties in authority, more difficult as political parties will have to disclose and account for every newly-found wealth in their audited reports. That was the position of UDF as articulated by its president. It still remains our position. It has not changed.
Is it morally right for a ruling party or any other party to receive donations in monetary form or material from government agencies such as parastatals or city councils?
Old habits die hard. Wrongs when repeated over a long period of time become normal and assume the semblance of what is correct and should be followed. Immediately after college, I started work at Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi [Escom]. That was during the one party era. I recall that the main preoccupation of the transport manager, then was to ensure provision of good trucks and buses to the ruling party for ferrying party supporters to rallies and functions of the State President.
It was not only Escom that was obligated to do that but other statutory organisations and even government departments. That was the practice entrenched during the whole period of the one party dispensation. I think it is important to understand the historical background. This should not be taken as justifying such practice. What was wrong during the one party era will still be wrong, and even more so, if practiced during the hard won new dispensation of liberal democracy.