The New Political Dispensation
- Immediately the UDF came into power in 1994, one of the first issues it dealt with was the status of the Press Trust. Until then, the social and economic activities of the Trust were shrouded in some secrecy. The majority of people suspected that Trust’s activities sought to bolster the MCP and therefore indirectly entrenching the continuation of the one party regime. This was seen as a threat to the new democratic dispensation which had ushered in multiparty democracy in 1994 as this would support one party at the expense of all others and therefore placing the benefitting party at a distinct advantage.
It needs to be recalled that:
The initial capital of the Malawi Press Limited had come –albeit in part –from donations and contributions from the rank and file of the MCP; and
During the one-party era, basically all African Malawians were members of the MCP.
Bearing the foregoing in mind, the UDF Government believed that it was not tenable for anyone to take the position that Press (Holdings) Limited and its subsidiaries were mainly for the benefit of the MCP. It was for the benefit of the Malawi people. The Press Trust Reconstruction Act (PTRA), 1995 thus merely sought to underscore this position. It is said that attempts by the UDF Government to negotiate with Dr. Banda and the MCP to depoliticise the Trust did not bear fruit. As a consequence, the UDF Government was left with no viable option but to seek legislative enactment of the PTRA on 7th November 1995 which came into force on 1st January 1996. By virtue of Section 3 of the PTRA, the original Trust Deed of 1982 was varied to the extent contained in a Deed of Variation comprised in the Schedule to the PTRA.
Between 1996 and 1997, Press Trust became the object of heated debate between the Government and the Opposition as Dr Banda and MCP challenged the validity of the PTRA. The matter was referred to the country’s Judiciary for a determination regarding the validity of the PTRA. On January 31 1997, the Supreme Court of Malawi upheld the legitimacy and validity of the Act in the land mark decision that helped to put the matter to rest.