If ever anyone was in doubt about the fact that our society is driven by greed and arrogance, I would think that what we have seen in the aftermath of the constitutional court ruling and the subsequent parliamentary hearings on the same has put any of those doubts to bed.
In the past week, Malawians have through the judgment of the Constitutional Court in the elections case as well as the subsequent hearings before the Parliamentary Appointments Committee (PAC) been subjected to shocking revelations of utter incompetence and negligence that borders on criminality by the Commissioners of Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). Their conduct has undermined their credibility in the discharge of their duties and has threatened the political climate in the country whose Citizens will not be called to vote again as a result of their conduct.
Elections are supposed to be the backbone of democracy and are universally recognized as the means for legitimizing people entrusted to run Governments. A competent and impartial handling of electoral processes by key stakeholders is therefore the only way to ensure credibility and acceptance of election results. It is paramount that those mandated to conduct and oversee those elections should be not only be competent and independent but should also have a proven track record of honesty and integrity lest they put such a fundamental tool of democracy into disrepute which would consequently not only result in public dissatisfaction but also instability in a country.
As they followed PAC’s interview of MEC commissioners, Malawians were left reeling with shock, disappointment, pain and emotions associated with the trauma of betrayal from people entrusted with something so fundamental.
Malawians have been subjected to the disturbing revelations this past week from the hearings of the Commissioners before PAC. We heard, for example Commissioner Nkosi informing PAC how the Chairperson of the Commission proceeded to announce APM as the winner before the Commissioners signed the Presidential results which were signed on the day APM was sworn in, she further stated that the Commissioners were also shocked that correction fluid, Tippex had been widely used and yet the same Commissioners approved the result sheets bearing the said alterations. She unreservedly admitted that MEC was wrong in announcing the results in light of many unresolved issues.
PAC then dismissed Commissioner Mtafu’s testimony as simply dishonest. Commissioner Banda, whilst admitting that MEC should take responsibility for the serious irregularities, categorically that in spite of the blatant incompetence shown by him and his fellow commissioners, he was not going to resign. Commissioner Mathanga and Commissioner M’madi made no concessions of misconduct on the part of MEC or the Commissioners.
As for Commissioner Kunje, not only did she appear before PAC with no remorse for the atrocities that the Court of this land had concluded had been committed by MEC, but she even had the audacity to declare to the members of PAC that they were also beneficiaries of the same irregularities and therefore had no moral right to question them about their conduct as essentially, they had put them there!
Kunje’s attitude was that of a commissioner who believes that it was her and the commission that put the elected officers in their positions and not the voters!
The last to appear before PAC was none other than the now infamous Chairperson of MEC, Jane Ansah who was captured by media houses making childish poses before her appearance as if this was a comedy show for Malawians. The message was clear, she was unperturbed by the conduct of the institution she was entrusted to run. During her appearance she told PAC that she was not ready to resign in spite of the findings of the Constitutional Court and more importantly in spite of her having told Malawians on National Television that she would resign if MEC lost the case. Now that MEC had lost the case we heard her crying foul before PAC and bemoaning how Malawians were after her blood and blatantly said she would only resign if the Supreme Court of Justice dismissed their appeal. These are statements that come only from a person who knows that the appointing authority – in this case the president- will not and cannot discipline her because they are in this together.
This display of dishonesty, arrogance, lack of remorse, incompetence and greed by the Commissioners is appalling and disgusting. Clearly they are hell bent on holding on to their positions at all costs for their own personal gains in spite of clear violations of ethics and provisions of the law which has resulted in a circumvention of justice and the will of Malawians and for the moment it seems nothing can be done to force their resignation. How can the public hold them accountable for their actions? Perhaps our battles against the rottenness of our governance framework are still yet to be fought.
The governance gap is glaringly obvious in form of the system for accountability following appointment. Although our laws, unlike the laws of other countries like Cape Verde and Mali, anticipates possible termination of the Electoral Commissioners and provides that their appointing authority, the President, can sack them on advice from PAC for incompetence or incapacity, it appears that there are no provisions under the law that forces PAC to make those recommendations. This is why PAC had to wait for the judgment of the Constitutional Court before being moved to summon the Commissioners to explain their conduct before them, this in spite of the fact that there have been calls for their resignation prior to the Judgment of the Constitutional Court.
Another concern stems from the fact that even if PAC decides to recommend the dismissal of the Commissioners, there is nothing in our laws that compels the President to follow such a recommendation for it is simply that, a recommendation which the President can choose to accept or reject according to his discretion. In fact, why would a President that is benefitting from MEC’s incompetence and negligence wish to implement a recommendation that would adversely affect the very officers that have furthered his agenda for Presidency through their negligence and incompetence!
This simply needs to change if we want proper accountability from the electoral body.
For our governance framework to retain any residual iota of respect, PAC needs to rise to the occasion and champion democratic values by making a recommendation for the dismissal of the Commissioners. Similarly, if Mutharika is to salvage a small amount of respectability from his train-wrecked leadership, he will have no choice but to implement the said recommendation.
One would have also hoped that the lawyers representing MEC, including the Attorney General himself, would have chosen to assist MEC in righting the wrongs done by it, instead, they have been complicit by defending such atrocities and even going as far as trying to delay the Commissioners’ appearance before PAC for accountability.
From recent revelations, it is not surprising or outlandish that Malawians have many times taken to the streets demanding the resignation of the Chairperson of MEC. Faced with the outrageous conduct of the Commissioners, the duty bearers in the whole process, PAC, APM and their lawyers should place their feet in the right place and stand firm for Malawi first instead of defending the Commissioners’ pursuit for monetary and political gains at the expense of the will of Malawian people.
Fellow Malawians, this is a time that will try our determination to correct the governance wrongs in this country- from MEC to PAC to lawyers and the judiciary. Let us proceed with vigilance and determination. We cannot turn back now. This battle must be won, and it shall be.