Pressure continues to mount on Malawi President Joyce Banda to publicise her assets, which government officials claim were declared and deposited with Parliament early this year.
Adding a strong voice to recent calls by civil society organisations on the President to make her assets public, Public Affairs Committee (PAC) on Thursday asked Banda to order Clerk of Parliament to publicise her declaration for the sake of transparency and accountability.
Members of PAC—the most respected umbrella organisation for the major faith communities represented in the country—met the President at Kamuzu Palace in the capital, Lilongwe where the religious grouping voiced out several concerns, including growing corruption levels in the country.
PAC executive director Robert Phiri confirmed the meeting in an interview on Friday, saying it was the grouping that asked for an audience with the President to discuss national issues.
“The meeting with H.E [Her Excellency] took place in the afternoon,” Phiri said. “I am not in a position to divulge the responses from the State House. It is the responsibility of the publicity secretary because this was a high-level advocacy interface meeting.”
After assuming office in 2012 following the death of former president Bingu wa Mutharika, President Banda refused to declare her assets, arguing she already did so when she was vice-president in 2009. But the President is said to have declared her assets early this year although Parliament has refused to publicise the document, saying it is not legally empowered to make the declaration public.
In a document capturing several issues that the PAC delegation presented to Banda, the religious grouping asks the First Citizen to let members of the public verify the asset declaration she deposited with Parliament so as “to remove the mist hovering over the issue”.
Says PAC in the document: “The public out there feel you are not willing to fully come out on the matter. We are mindful of the arguments that have been advanced based on advice from your lawyers.
“While legal technicalities on this issue have been pronounced in the media, PAC believes that the bottom line is that principles of accountability have to be interpreted in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution.”
PAC also pleads with the President to let the public verify the declaration she supposedly deposited with Parliament, especially with revelations that Mutharika had amassed wealth valued at K61 billion at the time of his death in 2012.
“PAC believes that there is nothing wrong in making something public since the issue is of public importance. In addition, you were able to take a new oath for the new office; therefore, it should not be a challenge for you to make a transparent declaration through Clerk of Parliament whom we are told is keeping your documents,” recommends PAC in the document.
PAC further asks Cabinet to seriously consider recommendations from a 2007 report of the Law Commission on the Review of the Constitution, which observed that there is a general lack of enforcement of the declaration of assets provision due to lack of enabling statute or political will.
“We note that there is a report of the Commission on the Development of Legislation on Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Business Interests by public and Elected Officers. This report is with the Cabinet. It would be wise to respect recommendations from the Law Commission,” it reads.
Since revelations about Mutharika’s wealth were made public, various legal experts have warned that the country’s presidents are free to plunder public resources unless legal mechanisms are put in place to monitor growth of their wealth.
On corruption, PAC notes that there is a perception that the current regime may not be doing enough to deal with the vice.
“There are arguments that while the current regime managed to bring political space, corrupt practices remain high in various institutions. This development links to the issue of declaration of assets.
“The very reason that this country has been very slow to implement proposals and recommendations surrounding declaration and disclosure of assets provides a fertile ground for concluding that people in high authorities take pride in corrupt practices,” reads the document.
This year’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) report puts Malawi on number 88 out of 176 territories, representing a 12-step improvement from last year’s report.
PAC also cautions government about the awarding of contracts, which it says are not being awarded objectively.
“There is a perception that contracts are awarded to those that are close to government machinery and perhaps those that have close links with the ruling party. We wish to appeal that if this practice exists, it should be avoided and stopped altogether so that all Malawians benefit based on merit,” reads the document.
The religious grouping is also concerned about the President’s frequent travels both locally and internationally.
“There is perception out there that your government may not have performed well on controlling expenditure in this regard. We are aware that now it will be difficult for you to reduce number of your trips given that political campaigns seem to have already started. There is fear, therefore, that more public resources may be used on party campaigns,” reads the document.
Picking running mates
The grouping also told the President that it was necessary that running mates to presidential candidates should be known within reasonable time to allow voters to know “who is likely to rule the country should the State President become incapacitated.”
PAC also raised the issue of the promotion of traditional leaders, asking the President to clarify how she intends to remove the fears that the exercise was being politicised.
On maize shortage, the body wanted a briefing from the head of State on how prepared the country was to deal with the looming hunger and get an assurance that the staple would be available.
PAC asked Banda to explain the allegations that her government was planning to push cases against some Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members, especially the presidential candidate Peter Mutharika, as the country moves towards the polling date in 2014.
“Your Excellency, in the eyes of PAC, the above perennial issues will be our benchmark in transformative leadership. We will bring these issues to all political parties in a constructive fashion so that we know how long it will it take to deal with these issues if they go in power,” reads the document.
PAC publicity secretary, Rev. Fr. Peter Mulomole, who was also leader of delegation, confirmed that the issues raised with the President included declaration of assets not only by the State President, but also other public officers who are required by law to declare their assets.
Mulomole said PAC also raised the issue of the ruling party’s abuse of Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), especially now that the country is preparing for tripartite elections next year.
“As PAC, we are satisfied with the way the discussion went. We think we listened to each other and to PAC, that is very important,” said Mulomole.
As we went to press, State House press secretary Steve Nhlane had not answered our questionnaire that sought the President’s reaction to the issues raised by PAC.