The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) on Friday asked Parliament to pass a motion in the House obliging the Treasury to fund the institution directly.
Ministry of Finance spokesperson Nations Msowoya, however, has poured cold water on the suggestion, saying not only is it unworkable, but also that no country has such arrangement.
Commissioner Wellingtone Nakanga—who is MEC’s chairperson of finance and administration and led a delegation of the institution’s officials—assured the Budget and Finance Committee that the commission would be able to carry out its activities in time if it attained financial independence.
“If we are independent, the institution would be able to conduct credible elections in 2019 and beyond which would be acceptable to all Malawians. It would conduct electoral activities according to agreed timelines and it would boost confidence in the electoral process,” said Nakanga.
According to Nakanga, MEC needs to be adequately resourced and this can only happen with support and advocacy of other institutions, including Parliament.
He explained that such a scenario should spur Parliament to ensure that MEC’s funding is protected, observing that once the organisation is financially independent, it would ease the burden on government of disbursing huge amounts of money in elections years instead of spreading such sums over five years.
Nakanga informed the committee that currently, government does not fully honour its financial obligations to MEC in between elections as it considers such periods as requiring less financial support, especially soon after any elections.
“This, therefore, results in MEC piling up most of its planned activities which create a lot of pressure on MEC staff,” said Nakanga.
MEC chief executive officer Willy Kalonga disclosed to the committee that MEC has challenges such that reduced funding during the 2014/15 financial year has resulted in accumulations of arrears that have seen creditors petitioning the courts to force payment from the institution through closure of its offices in Lilongwe and Mzuzu.
“The Lilongwe office remains sealed for over a month as the institution has no funds to pay the creditors and this is causing disruption of its service delivery,“ said Kalonga.
Chairperson of the committee John Chikalimba assured MEC that they would take the issue to the plenary in the next sitting of Parliament in November.
In separate interviews, both Blessings Chinsinga, a lecturer at Chancellor College of the University of Malawi and Chris Chisoni, the executive secretary for Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), agreed with MEC on the need for it to have financial independence.
Chinsinga, however, said MEC should not just seek financial independence but total independence as it would help Malawi to have free and fair elections.
“It is very important that we should have an electoral body that is independent as this could help to have free and fair elections,” he said
Chisoni went further to argue that the independence of MEC should be a foregone conclusion given that some institutions of a similar nature are already independent. He added that being given control over resources would be important in the context of electoral reforms which MEC is pursuing.
“It is important for MEC to have financial independence just as Parliament does not need the Treasury or the Ministry of Finance to control its finances for operations. However, financial independence is not an end in itself; they need political independence as well.”
During the meeting, Member of Parliament for Ntchisi South, NkhosaKamwendo, warned MEC officials against being biased towards any political party if democracy could be achieved in the country.
“We are in opposition today but we might form a government in coming years, so you better work independently,” said Kamwendo.
MEC has consistently argued that the current mode of funding leaves the organisation at the mercy of the Treasury to get money which has been appropriated by Parliament. It has also pointed out that neighbouring Zambia also uses the protected funding model.
MEC came under a heavy storm last year following its shambolic manner in which the tripartite elections were conducted. On election day, thousands of names were missing from the voters roll and some centres opened late due to delays in provision of materials, among other challenges.
- Government does not fund MEC in full in the period between elections
- MEC offices in Mzuzu and Lilongwe were sealed by creditors for failure to pay debts
- Malawi’s next elections will be held in 2019