May 31, 2011

Minister announces tripartite elections in 2014 / UK and Germany suspend aid

Malawi government wants the local government elections to be held together with presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Anna Kachikho told parliament. Kachikho was presenting a ministerial statement on the cancellation of local government elections. “This means voters will be voting for the president, Members of Parliament and Councillors at the same time,” Kachikho precised. She added that government would table a bill to the National Assembly which would propose a “constitutional amendment on election schedule”. Accoring to her, holding the tripartite elections would ease the pressure of holding two elections within two years and make a huge saving in terms of expenses on the part of Government and stakeholders. “Government has consulted other countries; we’ll not spend a lot of money by holding tripartite polls,” she said.

The constitution provides for local government elections a year after Presidential and Parliamentary polls but successive governments have opted to shelve the municipal ballot on several occasions (except for the United Democratic Front government in 2000). Electoral Commission had announced before that “The decision by government to postpone the elections has been arrived at following consultations with President Bingu wa Mutharika.” The Local Government Act was amended to empower the president to set municipal election dates and Mutharika last year set April 2011 for the polls. However, in December 2010 the president suspended the Commission for alleged misappropriation of millions of dollars during the 2009 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. A forensic audit established some irregularities. The president re-constituted the Commission on April 1 and the time was insufficient for elections to be organized.
The decision to shelve the local government election up until 2014, has been met with anger by civil society groups that feel it is a ploy to buy time for President Mutharika’s party which is not sure of its grassroots support. Opposition parties have also accused the Mutharika government for showing that it is not interested in development at the local level. Presidential spokesman Hetherwick Ntaba vehemently denied this, saying the claims are coming from enemies of the truth. In the absence of mayors and councillors, administrative staff are running municipalities and there is a contention that changes to by-laws by these officials are illegal as they will not have been voted on.

In a different context, it has been made known that Malawi has lost aid from Britain and Germany after expressing concerns about poor governance in the country. This decision, according to the Nyasa Times, was taken because of President Bingu wa Mutharika's dictatorial rule. According to the Times, President Mutharika accused some donors of working with civil society to undermine his administration.

Mutharika deported British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet in February 2011 for calling him "autocratic" and "combative". Mutharika is also on record as saying that some donors are working with civil society to undermine his administration. Britain froze new aid until a review of its ties with the country after mutual expulsion of diplomats, the Malawi Voice reports. A statement released by the Department of International Development (DFID), a British aid arm, said the UK was reviewing its relations with Malawi, including DFID's aid programme. New aid commitments are on hold until the review is completed.
Nyasa Times also reported that the German embassy would close its mission in Malawi in the next 12 months. The donors were concerned with violations of freedom of the press and expression, lack of accountability and human rights abuse, according to reports. The country is heavily reliant on donors, with budgetary support accounting for more than 40 percent of the national budget, the Malawi Voice has reported. (Nyasa Times)

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