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Battle over electoral laws

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The Law Commission has threatened to abandon the process of reviewing electoral laws should donors continue forcing it to finalise the process by December this year.

The Commission has told donors that it will not allow to be forced to finish the work by December 2016 and has insisted to be allowed to do the work by March 2017 but donors have put their guns down that the Commission has to wind up by December.

The Commission’s first request for a “No Cost Extension on the Electoral Laws Reform Programme” contained in a letter written by Law Commissioner Getrude Hiwa dated October 5 2016 was rejected by the Malawi Electoral Cycle Support Project Technical Committee (Mecs).

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Unsatisfied with the rejection, Hiwa wrote another letter addressed to the Mecs chairperson, United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative Mia Seppo dated October 10 2016 in which she tells the committee that the Commission may abandon the reform process if it is forced to finish by December.

“I reiterate the position that I presented in the Steering Committee Meeting of 29th September, 2016 that it is not practically possible to conclude the law reform process by 31st December, 2016 for the reasons I gave,” said Hiwa in the letter.

“This, as already emphasized on various occasions, requires adequate time hence our request for a ‘no cost extension’ to March, 2017. The activities that are on the Work Plan, which have been streamlined, are essential to the processes of law reform,” reads Hiwa’s letter.

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She adds: “It is, therefore, in view of the considerations above that I reiterate that failure to grant the request for a “no cost extension” as requested will put the Law Commission in a position where it may not be possible to finalize the review of the Electoral Laws to its logical conclusion.

“While I am aware of the possibility that such an extension may have serious implications on other programmes and projects on the part of some development partners, I am hoping that the cooperating partners will understand the position of the Law Commission and also give the Law Commission space to undertake and conclude this work which, “all of us agree” is very crucial to this country.

Some of the reasons she gave are that it is not possible to arrange for more than two or three meetings in a month because Commissioners are unable to commit themselves to the process for more than two or three day meetings in a month.

Further she said the Commission needs to work with professionalism and unwavering adherence to basic ethical standards of independence, responsibility, transparency and accountability.

Hiwa’s letter is prompted by the refusal of the Steering Committee on the issue of No-Cost Extension to allow the Commission finish the work by March 2017.

There was an ad hoc Technical Meeting of the Steering Committee on October 10 2016 to consider and formulate a recommendation for the Steering Committee in response to the request.

In its report dated October 10 2016 signed by UNDP Chief Technical Advisor and Chair of the Technical Committee, Mecs Project Sean Dunne and co-signed by Mec Commissioner and Co-Chair of the Technical Committee, Mecs Project Jean Mathanga, the Technical Committee noted that a principal goal of the process is to allow any reforms to be implemented ahead of the 2019 elections.

“In this regard it was highlighted that the Law Commission cannot guarantee the passage of the proposed reforms through the Ministry of Justice and Cabinet, prior to their submission to the National Assembly,” reads the report.

The report reads further: “However, it was noted that delays beyond 2016 for the Special Law Commission to complete its work, would significantly jeopardize the possibility of the reforms being considered on a schedule that would enable their implementation ahead of 2019.”

The committee also agreed that Mec should submit its budget for the 2019 elections to the Ministry of Finance well ahead of the June/ July 2017 session of Parliament and needs to be able to consider the reforms as part of the submission.

The last reason given for the Commission to finish its work by December is that with the scheduled closure of the Mecs Project at the end of 2016, the ability of several donors to extend their financial arrangements too far into 2017 is limited.

In an interview yesterday Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) Chairperson Steven Duwa said perhaps the Law Commission should be given the benefit of doubt as they have their own way of doing things as a legal body.

Duwa said it was difficult to point fingers at the Commission or the donors but he added that the law reform process is for the benefit of Malawians and as such the two sides need to resolve the deadlock.

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