At last! The report on the alleged cases of corruption involving businessperson Zuneth Sattar and some senior government officials has been released. Heads have rolled and public trust has seemingly been restored. For now.
President Lazarus Chakwera has pandered to public opinion and effectively suspended his deputy as well as fired the Inspector General of Police, the board chairperson of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets and the State Residences chief of staff, among others.
Perhaps, the most notable point in the President’s presentation on Tuesday was his acknowledgement that business people use “donations” to capture political parties before they get into power, presumably to get preferential treatment when State institutions are awarding contracts.
As such, Chakwera pledged to give the office of the Registrar of Political Parties “any support it needs to investigate the political donations found in those ledger books, and to take appropriate action against the affected political parties for any undeclared donations”.
Here is an idea. What if Chakwera just follows the Constitution he so callously claims to respect and declare the source of his party’s financing? That should save the Registrar of Political Parties the time and money investigating the Malawi Congress Party.
While we are at it, he can convince the other eight parties in the Tonse Alliance to follow him in declaring who has been funding their campaigns and what these benefactors wanted in return for their “investment”, for lack of a better term.
The investigation by the British government through its National Crimes Agency has laid bare what Malawians have feared all along; private entities and businesses sponsor political parties hoping to secure lucrative State contracts when the party secures the mandate to govern.
Considering that some of the wealthy individuals known to sponsor political parties have admitted to funding more than one party, it would be overly optimistic, if not incredibly naïve, to assume that their altruism is driven by a belief or commitment to a distinct political ideology.
There is a direct link between illicit party financing and institutionalised corruption at State-level.
Research by the UK Department for International Development shows that clandestine party financing distorts democratic systems, particularly in developing countries.
This has been the case since before Sattar came onto the scene and it will probably continue after he is long gone if oversight institutions such as the Registrar of Political Parties do not perform their duties to the letter.
In fact, it shows how far Malawi has fallen when a President whose party has not complied with the law as prescribed by an Act of Parliament can earn plaudits for asking a public official to investigate cases of non-compliance with regulations that even his party hasn’t followed.
If the President is serious about containing corruption, the first step should be to declare his party’s source of funding. The law says so.
It says a lot about political parties in Malawi that they treat regulations that are central to the nation’s fight against corruption with utter disregard and impunity.
The Malawi Law Society, Centre for Multiparty Democracy and multilateral institutions have all urged parties to declare their sources of funding. It is time for the parties to listen and act according to the interests of Malawians.
Malawians have witnessed one regime after the other sacking officials loyal to their political opponents only to replace them with their own ‘guys’ and continue the plunder.
Ordinarily, these malpractices will not end until all parties disclose the sources of their funds. With transparency and accountability, well-meaning citizens will know the private actors financing political parties.
If Malawians know the financiers behind the political parties’ lavish campaigns, they can gauge whether companies that finance ruling elites are getting undue favours.
Kudos to the President for heeding the calls that will protect Malawian’s legitimate interests from well-funded and politically-connected individuals from using the veil of secrecy to plunder public coffers.
But ultimately, as a leader of a political party and head of State, he cannot hold others accountable to laws that he and other party leaders in the governing alliance do not want to comply with.