Hopes of having an improved turnout of voters during the 2009 general elections are slowly dashing off following the delay by all accredited service providers to access funds from UNDP to conduct civic education campaigns to mobilise people to register en masse.
Malawi Electoral Support Network and Human Rights Consultative Committee have admitted that member organisations have not embarked on the exercise because of lack of funds although the first phase of the registration exercise ended yesterday.
A representative of Malawi Electoral Support Network, expressed concerns over UNDP's micromanaging the situation, and instead of making the donor-funds available to all groups and NGOs, they are selecting a handful of NGOs which are close to UNDP and Government officials".
The two NGO groupings observed that the ideal situation could have been embarking on the civic education prior to the registration exercise to woo more people to register. But UNDP has become a real road-block and is not cooperating at all.
In 2004, President Bingu wa Mutharika was ushered into office by about 37 percent of 3,119,645 people who turned up to vote out of 5 184 086 registered. In the 2000 local government elections, voter apathy hit its record high when only 14.2 percent of the over 5.2 million registered voters cast their ballots.
As of now, the USD1.8 million (about K252 million) pledged by the donors for civic and voter education to about 75 accredited NGOs is still stuck with UNDP who are managers of the basket fund because proposals for funding are with the Malawi Electoral Commission.
Presured by the media, UNDP acknowledged last week the delay saying it was due to long procedures in processing the funds from various donors who contribute to the basket. But in reality, sources inside UNDP Malawi, say that the funds are blocked at UNDP Headquarters since a month, and they were not yet transfered to local UNDP.
MEC projected that the country will have about 7 million eligible voters in 2009 general elections.
"The delay [in conducting civic education] will affect the turnout for registration and as Malawi Electoral Support Network, our immediate focus is on the registration because "no registration no voting," said Mesn chairperson Aloysious Nthenda.
"Realising this challenge of delayed funding, Mesn members are using the little resources and existing structures in disseminating civic education. Some have sponsored a few programmes in the media, However the biggest outlet so far has been the religious and traditional structures such as churches and mosques," he said.
HRCC chairman Undule Mwakasungula said short-cuts should be avoided at all costs because the registration exercise is an integral part of the whole electoral process since it determines the number of people to participate in the voting process that puts a government in place.
"The most important part of the whole electoral process is the registration exercise because if more people don’t register then it means very few will take part in the voting," he said.
"We have the registration process now but you see no NGO has the resources to mobilise the electorate and yet out there people are already saying the NGOs are not doing enough. I must say donors have let us down a lot in this regard.
"But at the same time, we as local NGOs need budget support from our own government to actively take part in the civic and voter education. Why should we wait for donor support only? We needed to have the resources at least six months ago for us to effectively contribute to the process," he said.
The commission’s Public Relations Officer Fegus Lipenga said on Thursday the electoral process does not only rely on NGOs as service providers in the area of civic education but other structures, which he said have also proved to be effective.
"The MEC is happy with the turn out —very impressive figures will be released after the end of the first phase," he said. "From the look of things voter turn out in 2009 elections will be overwhelming. Political parties, the media are doing a good job to sensitise the people on the elections."