All of a sudden, it appears that the registrar of political parties is waking up from his deep slumber and wants to bring in line all the political parties that are duly registered under his office. In all honesty, this particular office had been quite dormant and not very inspiring. If we examine prior to the time that legislators endorsed the Political Parties Act in 2018 that, among others, demands that political parties should declare their sources of donations and the assets they have, one would appreciate that though we had already embraced democracy, there was a lot that left to be desired in as far as chaperoning political parties is concerned.
What, in my view, seemed to be the main problem is that usually, the office holder of the top position is a through-and-through public servant and also considering that for a long time, there was no backing legislation that would move him or her to act, everything in that office was and has been chaotic.
But now that the piece of legislation is in place, I see no reason why enforcement of the demands of that law should be a problem.
It therefore felt kind of refreshing to hear the Registrar of the Political Parties threatening to crack his whip on those parties that have not yet complied with the law, in respect to depositing documents outlining what assets they have and who their sources of donations are. But then we have heard such threats before and if I remember correctly, he had already issued a deadline (including an extension) on this very same issue and therefore all he needed to do was act and not continue going round in circles.
It is baffling to learn that only a handful of political parties have complied. I do not buy the excuse peddled by some of those that have not yet declared that there is no need to rush since the season of ‘donations’ (I bet he meant campaign time) is not yet upon us. Just to jog your memory a bit, it was during such ‘off season’ that a certain political party was busy holding fundraising events during which some government ministries, departments and agencies (whether coerced or voluntarily) were ‘donating’ huge chunk of taxpayers’ money from their coffers. It had to take the intervention of civil society organisations, through the courts, for everything to be laid bare. Who knows what those in power now could be getting up to; in as far as fundraising drive is concerned. We have already seen some individuals who were cabinet ministers ‘taking a fall’ over corruption-related issues and that alone should have already sent signals to the Registrar of Parties to be on high alert.
Last we checked, it took the whole Malawi Law Society to shake the registrar by dragging his office to the courts so that four of the major political parties in the country could disclose their donors, back in 2019. He ought to have capitilised on this to revamp the office, seeing that there is a lot of goodwill from almost everywhere. The other challenge that I noticed is that the office lacks full autonomy, meaning that it still can dance to the tune of politicians, particularly those wielding power at a particular time, as those at the helm of the institution tend to fear for their job; which is very surprising, in this day and age.
The bottom line is; if the law says secretary generals of political parties that have not complied must be arrested, then by all means let us move in that direction. We should not be moving around in circles.
Let Judiciary be accountable
In recent weeks, we have seen the judiciary dominating news headlines and discourse in the public domain, with some raising the question of morality and ethics in light of a recent judgement.
We certainly must respect our judicial officers and the work they do. In the same respect, what we all expect from our good judges is that they should be above board but must not be beyond reproach when the public observes that somehow somewhere, things have gone amiss. As some experts in the law field observed, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) is sleeping on the job and as a result, systems provided for checks and balances are not vibrant enough.
JSC must do its job so that judges are held to account; otherwise, we should not blame legislators once they begin to take matters into their hands.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).