UTM Party presidential candidate Saulos Chilima, who is also State vice-president has launched the party manifesto for the country’s May 21 elections, promising to tackle endemic corruption with a promise to repeal Section 91 (2) of the Constitution, to strip off immunity for a sitting President.
The UTM faces a ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which has incumbent President Peter Mutharika seeking a second and final five-year term.
Chilima launched the manifesto in Dowa at the community ground in the district and promised to end the corruption that has tainted the country and a good governance system through making key accountability institutions independent of political interference.
“We want a nation in which everyone should be happy. We want to end corruption. So, we do not need to protect somebody so that he should be stealing until he comes out of the office,” Chilima said labouring the point that ta sitting President is not supposed to have immunity so that he or she, like any other person, should be tried in court if found on the wrong side of the law while in office.
An analysis by governance expert on the manifesto presented by Chilima, indicates UTM seems to take a more “radical approach” in dealing with corruption by amongst other proposing to remove the immunity of the President from prosecution.
“This is understandable, and also relevant against the background of the DPP and PP era cashgates as well as the famous K145 million scandal where an allegedly ‘thank-you’ gift was deposited to the President by a business tycoon,” Makhumbo Munthali, a governance expert and commentator told Nyasa Times.
In his analysis of the UTM electoral pledge solicited by Nyasa Times, Munthali maintained that the issue to strip off immunity for a sitting President can be debated by Malawians in the context of Presidential thieving and corruption.
“While it is a fact that removing the immunity of the President may be abused by some citizens who may bring numerous lawsuits against the President in the process bringing a government to a standstill, the issue of the immunity of the Head of State and senior government officials has been contentious even at global and regional level especially when it comes to serious crimes that offend human dignity like those under the jurisdiction of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which Malawi is also party to,” he pointed out.
“Perhaps as a country we should not only be wary about a country being brought to a standstill but also asking ourselves this question: should the Presidency be a safe haven where one can run to in order to escape justice over crimes such as corruption whose consequences put the lives of many Malawians at risk?”
Munthali said one possibility would be to isolate those “serious” crimes which the President can be prosecuted while in office and retaining immunity over “smaller” crimes in order to mitigate the abuse of the removal of immunity.
“Besides, such reforms can also be looked at in the context of impeachment processes. All in all the issue needs a national discourse that takes into consideration the above mentioned two realities,” he said.
Independence of ACB and Protection of Whistle blowers
The governance expert has also hailed the proposed reforms in UTM manifesto on financial and operational independence of the graft-busting body Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the review of anti-corruption laws (Corrupt Practices Act) to support the protection of whistle blowers are welcome.
“Already these proposals came out very clear during the 2017 anti-corrruption conference organised by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional affairs but then there have been little action by the current regime to address such. It is therefore refreshing to hear that UTM will be acting on them,” said Munthali.
He stated that such steps will also go a long way in complementing the efforts in the Access to Information legislation which partly addresses the issue of whistle-blowers of corruption.
“It’s good that UTM has committed itself to operationalising the Access to Information Law,” pointed out Munthali.
Lack of focus on prevention of corruption
However, the governance expert and commentator observed that the UTM manifesto – just like Malawi Congress Party (MCP) blue print – does not address the question of prevention of corruption in depth, and how it would mobilise the various sectors of the society including the civil society, faith leaders, private sector, the citizens and others as clearly spelt out in the Anti-Corruption Strategy.
“While successful and speedy prosecution of corruption cases and the removal of some immunity from the President may be good steps, the need to raise awareness (or civic education) of evils of corruption and how the society at large can join hands to fight the vice as preventive measures cannot be underestimated.
“It is pleasing to hear that UTM will increase the financial resources to ACB. However, there will be a need for a good balance in utilisation of such resources where both the prosecution and prevention activities are adequately funded,” he said.
Appointment of ACB Director
The governance expert pointed out that UTM’s proposal to review the composition of the Public Service Commission to ensure it’s robust, independent and free from political or any other interference is welcome.
However, he said its proposal for the “to-be” reformed Public Service Commission to confirm the appointment of a Director of ACB through a public interview and confirming the removal of the Director following the rules of natural justice is “vague” and does not in any way take into account, build on or critique the existing steps by the current regime and Parliament towards the independence of ACB as reflected in last year’s passed Amendment to Section 5 of the Corrupt Practices Act.
He said while the UTM manifesto clearly states that the Public Service Commission will have powers to confirm the appointment of a Director of ACB through a public interview, it does not state as to whether the President will remain the appointing authority or not subject to the confirmation of the Public Service Commission.
“It would have been better if the UTM manifesto clearly outlined its proposed process of appointing the ACB Director,” Munthali said.
He said the recently passed Amendment to Section 5 of the Corrupt Practices (which of course is yet to be assented by the President) has some positives which as a country can build on.
The commentator said the advertisement in the newspaper calling for applications for the post of ACB Director, the empanelling of an Inclusive ‘selection panel’ – which takes into consideration the pillars of 2008 National Anti-Corruption Strategy- tasked with shortlisting and interviewing in order to select a minimum of three candidates to be shared with the Minister for his or her submission to the President; and the President’s limited choice to appoint an ACB Director from the 3 names submitted to him are all some positives we can build on.
However, the Amendment has also its own flags which all political parties such as UTM, MCP and others need to pay attention to as they propose their respective reforms in the appointment of ACB Director.
“The red flags are clearly seen in 3 areas: security of tenure of the office of the director; appointment of the selection panel; and the President’s powers to reject the shortlisted names. In the context of a government which practices politics of patronage, nepotism and cronyism such amendments cannot work.
“The fact that the Minister is the sole ‘receiver’ of applications may be prone to abuse whereby he or she may remove names of those perceived to be critical of the ruling party or government and then submit the list he or she likes from many applications to the Selection panel.”
Consequently, he noted that the Selection Panel- which ironically is constituted later after the Minister has received all the applications may only review and shortlist from an already doctored list of applicants which is void of the perceived critics of the ruling party.
“In order to ensure that every application is received and considered fairy there was need for the Minister to first empanel the Selection Team/Panel before advertising the position in the Gazette and at least two newspapers of widest circulation.
“After empanelling the Selection Team, the Minister and the Selection Team should co-receive all the applications through creating an ‘application email’ that can be accessed by both the Minister and the Selection Team. This would also ensure that the Selection Team is involved from the very onset of receiving applications till the very selection of the best 3 candidates to be submitted to the President through the Minister. “
Furthermore, he said by leaving the whole powers to the Minister to appoint the Selection Panel this had potential to be abused where the Minister would chose people from the provided 7 sectors (civil society, media, private sector, faith community, public sector etc.) who are loyal to the ruling party to constitute the Panel.
In order to reduce chances of a Minister appointing his or her party cronies into the Selection Panel, it would have been proper if the Amended Act had specifically defined the identity of the representative institutions of the 7 sectors from which the Minister shall appoint members of the Selection Team, according to Munthali.
“In my view the relevant umbrella mother bodies of these sectors such as CONGOMA, Public Affairs Committee, Media Council of Malawi and others should have been defined as representatives of these sectors, and these would have been further allowed to submit nominations of 3 qualified people (from their constituencies) to the Minister to be considered for selection as members of the Selection Panel.
“This would hence ensure that the people selected in the panel are bonafide representatives of these sectors rather than ruling party stooges.”
In addition, Section 6A (6) of the Amendment Corrupt Practices Act which gives powers to the President to be able to reject all the names submitted to him by the Minister for appointment if he is not satisfied is problematic as this would not only be costly but also a signal that the President would still have an appetite to only appoint people he or she personally likes.
He said this has the potential to undermining the whole inclusive, consultative process where the views of one person supersedes those of the majority – in this regard the selection Panel.
“It is therefore important that UTM, MCP and other parties are able to engage with these strengths and limitations identified in the recently passed Amendment to Corrupt Practices Act, and propose subsequent amendments to these laws if they win.”
Munthali said the Public Service Commission – if it’s really to be reformed to enhance its independence and professionalism as proposed in UTM’s manifestoe- will need to replace the Selection Panel (in the Amendment Act) by exercising such powers given to the Panel as well as my proposed recommendations to the Amendment Act.
During the launch some of the party’s leadership took turns outlining the promises in social sectors such as education, health, agriculture, youth development as well as management of the civil service.
Speaking before Chilima, UTM secretary general Patricia Kaliati said they decided to launch the manifesto in Dowa because they wanted people to have an access to the content as they are gearing for the tripartite elections on May 21.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :