Preliminary findings by the National Audit Office (NAO) has exposed lack of consistency and maladministration at the country’s electoral body, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), and abuse of power by the the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
It has transpired that all the 192 DPP candidates were in the 2009 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections (PPE) either allowed to contest without paying nomination fees or bull dozed their way using political muscle of the then state president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika.
During the 2009 PPE, every parliamentary candidate was required to pay K100 000 as nomination fees and for the DPP it amounted to K19.2 million but out of the 192 candidates, Oliver Chizamsoka Mulwafu, who contested in Chitipa East, did not qualify for a refund because he managed to amass votes that represented 3.25 percent.
Electoral standing rules stipulate that any parliamentary candidate who scores above five percent of the total votes cast is eligible to a refund of the whole amount she or he paid and analysts view the MEC version as a means to substantiate payment of K19.1 million (that MEC made to Bineth Trust as refunds for the candidates who never paid anything.
MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa is quoted by the local press that all DPP candidates paid by themselves, adding that it is not true that Bineth Trust was repaid nomination fees of a payment that lacked evidence per the NAO preliminary audit report.
But NAO observes in the report that there was a risk that the electoral body’s regulations and guidelines were flouted by allowing DPP candidates, whose party was also in government then, to contest for the polls without payment of nomination fees.
“The audit noted that the payment of refunds to Bineth Trust was not justified because there was no evidence to show that the [DPP] candidates paid the nomination fees to the [MEC], as such there is a risk that refunds were made for the candidates that did not pay their nomination fees,” observes NAO.
DPP secretary General Eclain Kudontoni told the Weekend Nation that its candidates met the obligation and that the mess comes about due to MEC’s finance department’s “inefficiency and NAO is harbouring a vendetta against Bineth Trust.
He said: “It is not true that our candidates contested the elections without paying nominations fees, they all paid. Some candidates paid for themselves while others failed to raise the amount and were supported by the party. I think they [NAO] have personal grudges with Bineth because what I know is that all our candidates paid the nomination fees.”
Ironically, both MEC and DPP have disputed the NAO findings, with each side coming up with an own version to clean its slate but ending up in a collision. The financial transactions were made when the DPP was led by the late Bingu wa Mutharika.
In its effort to run away from being accused of flouting procedures, being corrupt and making ghost payment, MEC has claimed that the nomination fees for 192 DPP candidates were paid by the Bineth Trust, which was under former president and DPP leader late Bingu wa Mutharika. Bineth and former first lady, the late Ethel Mutharika, Bingu’s spouse.
“Bineth Trust paid for the DPP candidates and that is why there was a refund of all candidates who reached a threshold of five percent of total valid votes, and MEC supplied the auditors with evidence of payment after their query was raised and it was not even raised in their later draft audit report,” Mwafulirwa is quoted. But sources have indicated that NAO did not issue another draft audit report that cleared the issue as claimed by Mwafulirwa.
But DPP says the nomination fees were paid by each candidate putting MEC in a fix as to why it paid Bineth Trust and not the respective individuals.
The NAO’s audit exercise was conducted between November 15 2012 and August 21 2013 and covered the financial transactions at the electoral body from July2008 to June2012.
The financial deals are contained in a management letter ref no. SC/6/8/2012 from the Auditor General to MEC’s Chief Elections Officer Willie Kalonga dated February 4 2015, which Weekend Nation claim have seen and show that MEC paid the money to Bineth Trust on June 12 2009 through Malawi Savings Bank (MSB) cheque number 000175.
The audit was conducted between November 15 2012 and August 21 2013 and upon examination of general receipts, bank deposit slips, bank statements and nomination forms for all candidates who contested for the parliamentary seats on May 19 2009, the NAO audit team found no documentation to indicate that MEC got and banked the K19.2 million nomination fees from the 192 DPP contestants.
“There was no record at the [MEC] to indicate that nomination fees totalling K19 200 000 were received and banked and yet all the candidates contested for the seats contrary to the electoral standing rules which state that only those who had paid the nomination fees had to stand for the elections,” reads in part the letter headlined Management Letter on the Audit of Malawi Electoral Commission for the years ended 30th June 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
The NAO letter was copied to Secretary to the Treasury, Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet and the Assistant Auditor General and recommends that MEC management should always ensure that only those who have paid the nomination fees stand for elections.
The letter indicates that the MEC management promised to investigate the eyebrow raising circumstances that might have led to the anomaly and report back once we receive the final audit report from the Auditor General.
NAO spokesperson Lawrence Chinkhunda was non committal saying NAO cannot comment on the issues until they finalise their consultations.
But in a recent press release signed by Willie Kalonga that MEC indicated that the DPP paid for all its candidates through Bineth Trust.
“As a matter of fact, the analysis of the nomination fees from the districts assumed that all nomination fees were paid at the districts. However, candidates for the DPP were paid for by Bineth Trust as a lump sum and their nomination fees could not, therefore, have come from the districts.
“Related to this, the auditors also raised an issue on the refund of K19.1 million which MEC gave to Bineth Trust for the candidates who competed on the ticket of DPP. MEC clarified to them that the party paid K19.2 million for all its candidates through the Trust and that is why a refund for the candidates who qualified had to be made to the Trust.”
In a related development, the audit also faults MEC for failing to account for nomination fees for the May 19, 2009 presidential and parliamentary candidates amounting to K36.6 million.
Some 1 171 candidates— eight were vying for presidency— contested in the polls from which MEC was expected to collect K120.3 million in nomination fees which were paid between February 6 and March 24, 2009.
However only K83.7 million was deposited into the commission’s account and recorded on the bank statement while the balance of K36.6 million could not be accounted for.
In a press release, MEC denied being party to anomalies raised in a draft report by the National Audit Office saying.
“The current Commission would like to state categorically that it is not answerable for issues arising from management of the 2009 elections. The current Commissioners were appointed on May 19, 2012 with the Chairman joining them on 9th October, 2012,” reads a statement in part signed by MEC chief elections officer Willie Kalonga.
MEC argues that the gaps came about due to the fact that some documents could not be made available to the auditors claiming they had been mishandled by agents of the state namely the Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Fiscal Police when they were investigating reports of suspected fraud on MEC finance staff in 2009 that saw members of staff who were arraigned discharged by the “competent” court of law.
“The Commission is of the view that the audit issues are not an issue of fraud but just unavailability of accounting records due to reasons already stated. The very same reasons that documents could not be found because they were mishandled are the same why it was not possible to present them to the NAO auditors,” the statement signed by Kalonga on June 25 2015 explains.
It is not known what action would other bodies take on MEC and the DPP candidates who by not paying the nomination fees represented their respective constituencies illegally.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :