Cashgate linked to Joyce Banda assets: Publicise declarations, MHRC ask Speaker

The State-funded Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC)  are pushing Speaker of Parliament, Henry Chimunthu Banda, to publicise the assets declarations which President Joyce Banda deposited to his office amidst fears some of her assets are linked to cashgate scandal.

Malawi government said Banda re-declared her assets in 2013 and that the information was deposited with Office of the Speaker of Parliament.

According to Office of President Banda, she declared her assets when she was only a minister, vice-president and early this year after she already assumed the reins of power.

President Banda: Rights watchdog want her assets publicised
President Banda: Rights watchdog want her assets publicised

The President’s new wealth was not disclosed.

But MHRC Chair Sophie Asimenye Kalinde said they rights watchdog is asking the Speaker to ensure that the contents of Banda’s declaration of assets documents are made public.

She wrote the Speaker  demanding the release of the assets declared by the President and Vice President Khumbo Kachali within seven days from Feb 12.

In her letter to the Speaker, Kalinde wrote: “The Commission makes the request for the speaker to disclose the contents of the declaration of assets by the president and the vice president, in light of the developments surrounding the massive misappropriations of public funds, commonly referred to as cashgate scandal.”

She argues that the president herself has previously called on Malawians to scrutinize her and her assets, hence MHRC demand.

“The commission is particularly mindful of the facts that have so far emerged as well as speculation that is rife, pointing to the possibility of connection of the cashgate scandal to political players,” says MHRC letter.

The Attorney General (AG) gave a legal opinion to the Speaker of the National Assembly, advising him against revealing to the public details of the President’s wealth as earlier requested by the Malawi Law Society (MLS).

AG Anthony Kamanga opined that the current legal framework does not empower the Speaker to release or make public the contents of the declared assets.

However, MHRC argues that the Speaker is still duty-bound under the constitution to give Malawians a chance to scrutinise the president’s assets.

“Unlike these previous requests that were made on the basis of principles of accountability and transparency, the Commission is making the present request specially on the basis of section 37 of the Malawi Constitution and similar international human rights instrument that the government has ratified, which guarantee the right to information,” argued Kalinde.

She added: “The right to information is critical to defusing an environment of secrecy that breeds corruption, abuse of power and mismanagement.

“Disclosing the contents of the declaration of assets would also serve the public interest and the ends of justice, rule of law, transparency and accountability. These basic tenets of democracy are more relevant and valid now in the light of the developments surrounding cashgate.

MHRC also says failure to declare assists contributes to an environment devoid of appropriate accountability and transparency mechanisms for public resources, which is one of the major structural factors contributing to the disintegration of the public accountability mechanism.

The Rights Commission regretted that the noticeable disintegration of the public resources accountability and transparency mechanisms as evidenced by the massive misappropriation of public resources.

Barely three months before she asks voters to elect her for a second term, Banda faced calls from non-governmental groups to take responsibility for almost industrial-scale corruption on her watch.

The 63-year-old, who came to power with strong support from the international community after the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika, conceded that she took a “political risk” in launching a “fight against corruption” ahead of elections.

A much-awaited report by British auditors showed that K13 billion ($30m) was stolen in six months from April to September in 2013, her second year in office.

That equates to more than one percent of GDP, in a one of the world’s poorest countries, where state services are poor and life expectancy is just 54 years.

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