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Parties Bill divides Members of Parliament

Members of Parliament (MPs) Monday differed on whether political handouts should be restricted to the official campaign period or be banned entirely.

Among other things, the Political Parties Bill seeks to govern political party membership and hand-outs, but it is the latter that has attracted more debate, particularly on what constitutes a hand-out and when such a thing can be legally issued.

MPs for Ntchisi North, Boniface Kadzamira (Malawi Congress Party-MCP), Nsanje Central, Francis Kasaila (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP) and Mzimba North, Agnes Nyalonje (People’s Party-PP), are among those fighting for the complete abolishment of hand-outs.

On the other hand, Mangochi South’s Lilian Patel (United Democratic Front-UDF) and Chitipa Central’s Clement Mkumbwa of DPP are against the abolishment of the hand-outs, at least for the time being.

In his contribution, Kadzamira said the spirit of hand-outs weakens the power of voters as they sometimes go for a contestant who is wealthier than those who have attractive development ideologies.

“The bill will make voters the real source of power in our democracy… In the future, such bills must also look at issues like regional balance, youths and balance in terms of development projects,” he said.

On his part, Kasaila observed that it does not make sense for hand-outs to be abolished only during campaign period.

He said: “Except for activities for development of our communities, my opinion is that hand-outs should be completely abolished.”

DPP MP for Blantyre West, Peter Kumpalume, also stressed the need for clarity on what should be regarded as a hand-out so that the job is not left to judges or prosecutors to interpret.

According to Chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee, Maxwell Thyolera, the report does not recommend that religious obligations and cultural norms should be regarded as hand-outs.

On her part, Patel prefers that the abolishment of hand-outs should be restricted to campaign periods after which an amendment will be brought to Parliament “after Malawians get used to the fact that hand-outs are bad”.

It was Mkumbwa, however, who expressly stated that, by trying to abolish hand-outs, the bill is tying MPs’ hands when it comes to helping the needy in their constituencies.

“Let’s not use powers vested in us as legislators to produce laws that will affect the under-privileged people we serve… I cannot just watch when someone has been affected by [a calamity] during campaign period,” he charged.

During debate on the actual bill, several MPs supported the total abolishment of hand-outs while some maintained that, at some point, they should still be allowed to issue them, particularly where there is a “a grave need to do so”.

Several stakeholders including civil society organisations, are supporting the total abolishment of hand-outs.

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