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Debate rages on political party handouts

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CHIPUNGU—Sometimes we help government

Almost three years after the enactment of the Political Parties Act, debate is still ongoing as to what should constitute political party handouts, which are banned in the law.

On Thursday, political party officials, civil society organisations and other stakeholders concerned with political party financing, gathered in Salima District to deliberate on draft regulations prepared by the Registrar of Political Parties at a meeting convened by Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD)

The raw draft, which was created for the purpose of the consultative meeting, has ingredients such as barring political candidates and parties from commencing, commissioning or handing over a development project privately financed by or on behalf of a candidate to a community.

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Further, the draft regulations stipulate that donating of a privately purchased movable asset to a community, community leader or congregation by a candidate is prohibited.

This has been one of the major strategies that candidates vying for the seat of a Member of Parliament or Ward Councillor have commonly used.

The raw regulations have also zeroed in to tame publicity stunts.

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If adopted, publicising giving of funeral condolences in cash or kind would be banned, publicizing giving money or goods to a person performing at a social, cultural or political event will not be allowed and publicising giving of money or gifts to a religious gathering will also be prohibited.

“Publicising giving of relief items or assistance to individuals, households or a community,” reads another provision in the draft, arguing this constitutes a handout and will be condemned.

Sometimes candidates would give food or beverages to a group of people other than members of the entourage of a meeting or activity held by a political candidate. This act will also be considered as contravening the regulation.

Democratic Progressive Party, which was represented at the meeting by the party’s national organising secretary, Chimwemwe Chipungu, said they noted some gaps in the draft which need clarification.

In an interview yesterday, Chipungu said, among others, there should be clarity on who should be barred from performing a certain function.

“If you have money and you decide to build a bridge in your constituency, or buy an ambulance or build a health centre, those acts are prohibited. So we are saying that the government, including CMD [Centre for Multiparty Democracy] should look into this because sometimes we also help the government in development agendas. We have had issues where women would deliver using a candle or a lamp and we have seen candidates bringing in solar power. That should not be seen as an incentive,” he said.

Officials from Malawi Congress Party and UTM who were also represented at the meeting asked for more time before they could weigh in.

CMD Executive Director, Kizito Tenthani, said the meeting was fruitful.

“It is still a debate. If you take a bridge it fits to be a public good; that is, when you do it, it’s open to everybody. But then there are times when you build, you actually brand it, to say this bridge was built by so and so or vote for so and so. When you do that it changes because you talk of enticing. So the discussion went on to say what a person should then do, what procedures should one follow. So they needed that clarity,” he said.

He further said they also discussed the reporting procedure.

“That is where there is a lot of confusion, to say if one is caught or seen issuing handouts, what are the steps? All those have to be redrafted in the regulations,” he said.

Secretary for Justice, Reyneck Matemba, said the process would be that after the consultative meetings, the office of the Registrar General would go back to the drawing board, together with CMD, to factor in the input from the political parties and the other stakeholders.

“Once they are through with that process they will formally submit the draft regulations to the Ministry of Justice for our vetting. Then the regulations will be issued,” he said.

The drafting of the regulations comes about seven months after the gazetting of Political Parties Act in January this year which among others will ensure Malawians are aware of where political parties get their money.

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