Malawi’s NICE future not so nice: EU refuses to play ball

The National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) risks losing funding from the European Union due to government interference in its governance. The government has been running the organisation contrary to its Constitution.

The EU Head of Delegation in Alexander Baum has said the EU is ready to fund Nice if all parties adhere to the principles on which NICE was founded.

“We are fully committed to what we have been doing and nothing else; but and if things continue the way government want them then I am afraid there is bad news on the part of our funding Nice,” Baum is reported to have said.

Alexander Baum: EU head of delegation: Warns to pull the plug

He had gone to Dedza to visit the Nice offices to appreciate the state in which its assets were so that should talks end positively the EU should be well informed to be able to rebuild the civic education body.

Nice gets about 1.5 million  Euoros from the European Union every year.

Baum was petitioned by beneficiaries in Dedza to speed up talks with the government so that funding can resume.

The petition also requested government to play its part in speeding up the talks so that funding can resume and the beneficiaries should to start accessing the services Nice used to offer.

The halted funding has led to many problems and there is growing fear that should the status remain the same until 2014, there will be numerous problems during the polls because most of them rely on Nice facilities and infrastructure to access information on the voting procedures.

“Considering that there were some challenges during the 2009 general elections which were less complicated in nature, there are doubts on whether the forthcoming tripartite elections which will be first of their kind in the country will be possible without an institution such as Nice to provide continuous civic and voter education.

“There is also growing political tension due to the absence of the credible institution to bring all parties together as well as inactive multiparty liaison committees at district and constituency levels since they were all supported to a great extent by Nice,” reads the petition in part.

Commenting on the development, Minister of Information and Civic Education Patricia Kaliati told The Daily Times that Baum was just bowing to pressure from his colleagues to stop helping the government with funds because he was aware of the changes which the government wants to implement on Nice.

She said Baum was “part of the discussions we had and he agreed to the appointment of the board only that he is receiving pressure from his friends.”

“The motive is that EU wants to stop assisting our government. On the same, let me also point out that EU has no mandate to question the president’s appointment of the board,” said Kaliati, reiterating a combative stance that is now a trademark of the DPP Government.

Some former employees have complained that Nice has been highly politicised and this is why EU has reservations on what is going on. The handpicking of members of Nice Board of Trustees by President Bingu wa Mutharika is reported to be one of the factors that led to the EU withdrawal.

The board of trustees appointed by President Mutharika contrary to Nice’s constitution is now chaired by Mabvuto Bamusi.

The appointment of the board violated the initiative’s Constitution which stipulates that the identification of trustees would be done through advertising and short-listing process, a process that was flouted.

Nice is a brainchild of the late parliamentarian and former CONGOMA Executive Secretary David E.O. Faiti, who sold the idea to GTZ International Services resulting in the project’s operationalization and roll out in 1999.

The NICE concept was incubated between 1996 and 1998 at the Council for Non-governmental Organizations in Malawi (CONGOM) as an initiative and resource for non-partisan civic education. Political interference goes against its core raison d’etre.

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